Carlos Rivera has been with Alaska Airlines for 10 years as a ramp service agent, but he still doesn’t make enough to take his children on vacation this summer.
“What’s the point if we can fly for free down to Disney but I can’t afford a bed and breakfast or a hotel to take the kids?” Rivera asked.
Rivera was one of about two dozen Alaska Airlines employees who stood in front of the Juneau International Airport on Monday morning and demonstrated their desire for better pay, benefits and long-term job security. Rivera wore a neon-green “Show Us The Money” shirt. Others wore shirts that read, “United, We Bargain. Divided, We Beg.”
Alaska Airlines and the International Association of Machinists (IAM) & Aerospace Workers Local 2202 union are currently in negotiations, the protesters explained, and they believe this is the time to make their voices heard. According to the website for IAM District 142, Alaska Airlines was negotiating with unions in mid-August and will again be in negotiations in Seattle starting this Tuesday.
Alaska Airlines spokesperson Marilyn Romano provided a statement from the company to the Empire about the negotiations.
“Alaska Airlines is currently in the process of negotiating two labor agreements with IAM,” the statement read. “Our philosophy is to pay our employees fair, competitive wages and offer quality of life benefits that include health insurance, 401k contributions and flight benefits. As a rule, we do not elaborate on specifics during union negotiations.”
At Juneau’s airport Monday, Ramp Service Agent John Walters carried a sign that simply said, “Job Security.” Walters has been there for more than 19 years, but said he doesn’t have a long-term contract and lives with that anxiety of not knowing whether he’ll still have his job in a year or two.
“That’s one of the main things,” Walters said. “Our jobs aren’t guaranteed. We live contract to contract.”
Many of the ramp service agents (the people who guide the planes in and unload the planes) and the counter service agents (the people who check you in when you arrive for your flight) have to work second jobs to support their families.
Mary Ann Breffeilh, who has worked as a counter service agent for 20 years, said she’s fortunate because it’s just her and her husband, but she sees her friends and co-workers working multiple jobs and long days. She waved a sign at cars that arrived at the airport, looking to make community members aware of the struggle many of the Alaska Airlines employees face.
“We love this town, but it’s expensive here,” Breffeilh said. “We’re just wanting people to understand that we’re not trying to be greedy, we just want fairness.”
Alaska Air Group Chief Executive Officer Brad Tilden’s income grew by 35 percent from 2016 to 2017 after the company acquired Virgin America. According to a report from the Puget Sound Business Journal, other top executives at the company saw their incomes boost by more than 25 percent.
Protesters at the Juneau International Airport on Monday carried signs proclaiming this 35 percent raise, pairing it with the message, “Alaska Air, Be Fair.” Walters said that despite Alaska Airlines earning 11 J.D. Power and Associates recognitions for customer service in a row, the employees on the ground aren’t making as much as they are at some other airlines.
Breffeilh, Rivera and Walters all said they love their jobs and don’t want to leave them. They just want to be able to provide more for their families. The employees smiled and laughed with each other as they held their signs and waved at cars Monday. As more employees arrived to put on the neon green shirts and hold up the signs, many of them got hugs from coworkers.
“These guys make it worth it,” Walters said.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.