A preliminary injunction barred fuelers from striking at Sea-Tac in support of a worker they claim was suspended as a fueler because he advocated for safety improvements.

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Workers who fuel airliners at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport legally can’t strike because they haven’t gone through a dispute-resolution process required under federal law, U.S. District Court Judge James Robart has ruled.

Robart granted a preliminary injunction Friday that bars fuelers and their supporters from initiating a strike or other action that would disrupt operations by Aircraft Service International Group, or ASIG, which fuels 75 percent of planes landing at Sea-Tac.

Fuelers threatened to strike in support of Alex Popescu, who they said was suspended as a fueler because he advocated for safety improvements. ASIG claimed he was fired after screaming obscenities at supervisors. A court filing by one defendant said fuelers had authorized a strike of up to eight hours.

Defendants included Popescu; Working Washington, a group closely associated with the Service Employees International Union; and 100 “John Does.”

Robart found that fuelers are subject to the dispute-resolution requirements of the Railway Labor Act, even though they aren’t represented by a union. The act’s stated purpose is to “settle all disputes” without disruption to interstate commerce, the judge noted.

The defendants’ argument that nonunion workers aren’t subject to the law’s strike restrictions “would lead to an absurd result,” Robart wrote, with unionized workers subject to Railway Labor Act rules and nonunion workers free to strike at will.

In a statement sent out by Working Washington, fueler Leon Sams said fuelers would obey the judge’s ruling but would continue to fight for safety improvements. “We’ll continue to pursue all lawful options not prohibited by the injunction, because this decision doesn’t do anything to make our working conditions safer.”

The Federal Aviation Administration inspected aircraft-fueling operations at Sea-Tac after Popescu’s claims were made public and found none of the unsafe conditions alleged, the FAA told airport authorities.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com