The judge wrote that both sides appeared to have refused earlier mediation.
A federal judge today denied a request by Alaska Airlines’ unionized baggage handlers to immediately reinstate 472 workers whose jobs were outsourced last month at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez said his court lacks jurisdiction to issue a preliminary injunction in favor of the union representing the baggage handlers, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 143.
He also said it is unlikely the union would succeed in its claim against Alaska, because the workers’ collective-bargaining agreement has not expired, and it allows the airline to contract out work to save money. Alaska has said it will save about $13.7 million a year by hiring employees of Menzies Aviation to replace the unionized baggage handlers at Sea-Tac.
Martinez said the airline was not required to bargain before subcontracting, and both Alaska and the union “appear to have refused mediation sessions at various points during bargaining negotiations.”
The judge also was not persuaded that the baggage handlers would suffer irreparable harm by waiting for an arbitrator to decide whether the airline had the right to contract out the jobs.
Martinez pointed out that they will receive full pay and benefits until July 15, and they could be awarded back pay if an arbitrator decides later than July 15 that Alaska was wrong to outsource the jobs.
In court papers and in arguments before the court today, Alaska’s attorneys argued that the unionized baggage handlers should not be returned to their jobs now because they would be poorly motivated and some workers might engage in misconduct. They also argued that if the baggage handlers came back, Menzies employees would be immediately let go without severance or other compensation.
Martinez said he found both those arguments “highly speculative and without factual basis.”
“We’re deeply disappointed,” said Bobby De Pace, president of IAM District 143. The union is weighing its options, which include appealing the decision, going into arbitration and resuming contract talks “to try to negotiate those jobs back.”
The union still must negotiate a new contract for about 600 other employees — including baggage handlers in Alaska and freight handlers in Seattle — who are working under the same contract as the 472 baggage handlers who lost their jobs on May 13. The union and Alaska are in mediation on that contract.
If the union cannot reach a settlement that satisfies all members under that contract, including obtaining “job protection” for the out-of-work baggage handlers, it will ask the National Mediation Board to be released from mediation, De Pace told union members today. That would allow the workers to strike after 30 days.
De Pace told members strike preparations will begin in “the coming days and weeks.”
The IAM also represents more than 2,400 customer service, reservations and other Alaska workers under a separate contract that also is under mediation. Although those employees would not strike over the baggage handlers’ contract, they might honor a picket line set up by the baggage handlers.
Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or email@example.com