By Nathan Jackson
“This here is a broken gear shift,” Alex Popescu, an Aircraft Service International Group,(ASIG) fueler said pointing at a blown up picture of a 5,000 gallon fuel truck gear shift. “ASIG fixed it as you can see, with good ol’ duct tape.”
ASIG is a poverty wage contractor hired by Alaska Airlines. This contractor treats workers poorly requiring them to work with shoddy equipment.
When Sea-Tac fueler Alex Popescu brought up workplace safety issues like soft brakes and taped up gear shifts to ASIG management, they ignored him. When Alex brought his safety concerns to the Port of Seattle in public forums, and then reported a broken truck to his manager, ASIG suspended him.
Workers have had enough.
They have been asking ASIG to address their workplace safety concerns to no avail. These fuelers drive and refuel 75% of the planes at our port and they have to drive 5, 10 or 15 thousand gallon fuel trucks.
So fuelers voted by an overwhelming margin to authorize a strike.
Standing in the shadow of the Sea-Tac Airport control tower, workers stood with community allies such as Faith Action Network, Puget Sound Sage, One America, and Teamsters 117, held a press conference in front of no less than five television cameras.
“We are here to stand with these workers in solidarity,” said Michael Ramos from the Church Council of Greater Seattle. “Workers like Alex and the rest of these fuelers deserve — no demand — respect, safety and fairness in their work place and we stand with them. It’s time ASIG and Alaska Airlines did right by their workers and give Alex his job back.”
Ramos introduced another fueler to stand in front of the banners held by airport workers, Leon Sams. He approached the Q13 Fox microphone holding the letter that the fuelers have drafted to tell ASIG of their strike vote.
“My name is Leon Sams and I’m a fueler,” he said.
He cleared his throat and read from the letter.
“This past weekend, ASIG workers met and voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if you do not immediately return Alex to work with back pay, stop all management attempts at retaliation and intimidation, and take immediate steps to address the numerous safety issues at ASIG that we’ve repeatedly brought to you, Alaska Airlines, and the Port of Seattle Commissioners.
We have not called the strike yet. But we are ready. If we strike, we know we are protected by federal and state law. It is illegal for the company to threaten or intimidate workers who are exercising their lawful right to strike for safety and against worker retaliation. Threats made by ASIG representatives to workers in recent days are illegal. And they won’t stop us. We know our rights and are prepared to defend them.”
The large crowd cheered as faith leaders approached and introduced themselves. Collared priests, ministers and people of Muslim faith shook hands with workers pledging support.
Carol Harris of God First Ministries summed it up.
“We stand on the side of those who are standing up for their rights,” she said. “They deserve respect, safety and fairness and we got their backs.”
After marching to the ASIG offices, which were locked even though it was well within business hours, the fuelers decided to take their message directly to airline passengers. With TV crews following them, they reached out to people in Sea-Tac airport about safety issues and answered questions from many supportive travelers.
Alex Popescu handing out fliers answered the big question.
“It’s about safety,” he said. “We haul thousands of gallons of highly flammable fuel in trucks with soft, shoddy brakes. . . and duct-tape-maintenance. We’re concerned about . . . our safety.”