International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Reaches Tentative Agreement with Alaska Airlines

On June 22, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) reached a tentative agreement for a contract extension with Alaska Airlines that would cover approximately 5,300 Alaska Airlines workers who work in the ramp, shops, office, passenger service in the airline. six hubs in Anchorage, Alaska; Sea Tac, Wash.; Portland, Oregon; San Francisco, California; and Los Angeles, California.

The tentative agreement extends the current contract two years beyond the scheduled expiration of 2024, making the proposed new expiration date September 27, 2026. The proposal would increase base salaries at a rate between 8 .9% and 17.4% on August 10. This equates to a higher hourly rate of approximately $1 to $6 depending on job classification. Tiny increases of 2.5% would be issued every year for the next three years starting August 10, 2023.

N641VA, an Alaska Airlines Airbus A320 taking off from Mccarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada. [Photo by Noah Wulf / CC BY 4.0]

In 2024 and 2025, the tentative agreement calls for an “industry review” that will grant workers the 2.5% raise or percentage required to reach the top of the ladder as airline no. 4 in the industry, whichever is highest. This pathetic “concession” is made taking into account the insubstantial increases it would generate in both cases, salary increases well below the current inflation rate of 8.6%, which would amount to a huge effective reduction in wages.

Additionally, inflation rates in high-cost cities that Alaska Airlines uses as hubs are around 10.5%. These ridiculous increases are not enough to keep up with the cost of living. Even the maximum increase of 17.4% in August 2022 would not compensate for years of stagnant wages.

The additional token increases listed in the highlights called “longevity increases” will do little to change the situation. They will raise workers’ hourly wages by just 5 cents after 6 years, 10 cents after 7 years, 15 cents after 8 years, 20 cents after 9 years, 25 cents after 10 years, 30 cents after 11 years and 35 cents for every year after that.

The tentative agreement would not have made any changes to existing medical and other benefits.

The IAM has a history of betraying airline workers. In 2018, unionized baggage handlers employed by McGee Air Services and loading ramp workers employed directly by Alaska Airlines were found to be working for less than minimum wage. These workers do their work in grueling conditions, often in bad weather. Additionally, the airline guarantees that passenger baggage will arrive at the baggage carousels within 20 minutes of landing, which creates burdensome speed-up conditions for workers.

Alaska Airlines was able to rely on the IAM for corporate support to over-exploit these workers by contracting out these jobs to vendors exempt from local minimum wage laws. These providers are often exempted from local laws by regulatory provisions that allow airports like SeaTac to operate with a degree of autonomy not subject to local legislative interference.

During contract negotiations in 2005, Alaska Airlines outsourced baggage handling to Menzies Aviation, a non-union provider, with no objection from the IAM. Baggage handlers immediately saw their salaries reduced by 40%.

After a lengthy court battle over stolen wages for workers under Menzies Aviation that only saw workers get their wages back in 2017, the baggage handling contract was reinstated at McGee Air Services. Alaska Airlines was still allowed to pay baggage handlers less than minimum wage because of IAM contract provisions that granted the company the exemption in exchange for reinstating the contract with unionized McGee Air Services. This cynical and ruthless deal sold out contract workers to acquire additional dues revenue for the union bureaucracy. IAM airline deputy co-ordinator James Carlson reported that the union has “established a very collaborative relationship with McGee management. They seem like a good group of people who care about their workers.

The IAM’s betrayals date back to 2005, when it ordered its members across picket lines during a strike by Northwest Airlines Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) members. The other member unions of the AFL-CIO, the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) and the Professional Flight Attendants Association (PFAA), also continued to work during the strike, resulting in the defeat of the strike and the destruction of the union. Not only that, the IAM sought to profit directly from its scab operation by grabbing some of the jobs of mechanics in the North West.

The 2005 AMFA strike at Northwest Airlines was more than a matter of money for the airlines. Airlines wanted to outsource as many jobs as possible to save on payrolls and crush militant workers fighting for a better life. The airlines had the acquiescence of the AFL-CIO and the support of the state, including the Democratic Party, which had no say in the trampling on workers’ rights. Northwest Airlines knew that if it didn’t get the cuts, it wanted the company to declare bankruptcy and have the cuts enforced by the courts anyway.

The working class has a wide range of enemies it faces, some openly and others like the unions who are ready to stab them in the back for the selfish interests of a corrupt and depraved bureaucracy. It is clear that the only way for workers to fight and win is to form independent workers’ organizations outside of pro-corporate, nationalist unions. To do this, Alaska Air workers should follow the example of autoworkers, educators and health care workers by creating rank-and-file committees, democratically run by the workers themselves.

In order to connect the growing network of rank-and-file committees across trades, companies, industries and continents, workers need the International Workers Alliance of Rank-and-File Committees (IWA-RFC) launched on last year by the WSWS and the International Committee of the Fourth International to unite workers in a globally coordinated struggle against the airlines and other transnational corporations.

For more information on forming a rank-and-file committee in your workplace, contact the World Socialist Website today.

Andrew B. Reiter