Eaves-dropping on Alaska Airlines CEO, Brad Tilden

Did you ever wonder what goes on when the CEO of a big corporate airlines like Alaska Airlines reports directly to international investment companies about how the company is doing?

The way these calls usually work is a very official-sounding moderator ceremoniously first announces the CEO. After he paints a rosy picture of quarterly and, in this case, year-end earnings, the moderator solemnly announces each investor in turn for questions. This is when the formal tone breaks down. The investors and executive staff fall into a relaxed easy-going Q&A – often calling each other by first names. It sounds like old friends knocking back a few beers and slapping each other on the back congratulating each other for a job well done.

But last week, Alaska Airlines execs got a big surprise when the back-slapping was interrupted by financial analyst Helene Becker of investment house Dahlman Rose and Co. Instead of asking a question designed to highlight 2012 profits, she asked about the thousands of poverty-wage jobs serving Alaska Airlines passengers at Sea-Tac Airport.

“There’s this email going around from some of your contractors at Seattle Tacoma Airport saying that you guys are doing well and they’re not. Can you just address that issue?” [Note: Audio available at this link — question begins at 29:48] 

Alaska Airlines CEO Brad Tilden responded by stating: “We want to do the right thing at Sea-Tac and be a good corporate citizen.”  And Keith Loveless, Alaska Airlines Chief General Counsel added: “We do have a lot of control over who we contract with out there [Sea-Tac Airport], and we try to pick good quality contractors that treat their employees right and that have good labor standards as well as safety standards and that have good customer service. ”

As Brad Tilden knows, there are more than 2,800 contract workers making poverty wages at Sea-Tac. He has known since his first day on the job when faith and  community leaders and workers told him at the May 24, 2012 Shareholders meeting at the Museum of Flight and in many in subsequent letters, rally’s and meetings.  These workers are the people who deliver the services that make Alaska Airlines able to post profits for the 3rd year in a row.  Now that the company admits they can make sure their contractors” treat their employees right,”  airport workers expect Alaska Airlines to be the “good corporate citizen” they say they are.

Saba Belachew serves Alaska Airlines customers as a wheelchair attendant for BAGS, Inc.:

“It’s appalling that my co-workers and I are paid minimum wage while Alaska Airlines makes record profits. We’re part of Alaska’s success. We provide quality customer services, every day of the year. Who can raise a family on $9.19 an hour? It’s time for Alaska’s executives and shareholders to respect all the workers who have made their company so profitable. It’s time for them to share in the success.”

We are gratified to hear Alaska Airlines understands it has the power to choose airport contractors who provide good, safe jobs, and gratified that executives stated the importance of working conditions and customer service. Unfortunately, the conditions of thousands of poverty-wage workers at our airport simply don’t measure up to those values. Alaska Airlines is earning record profits; they can do the right thing and ensure every job serving Alaska customers at our airport is a good job.

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