Union Takes Alaska Airlines to Court

SEATTLE (AP) -- The union representing nearly 500 employees laid off by Alaska Airlines last week asked a federal judge Monday to prevent the company from outsourcing the work to subcontractors.

The airline replaced 472 ramp workers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Friday, giving the jobs to contract workers with Menzies Aviation in a bid to cut costs amid rising fuel prices and sharp competition.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers said the layoffs, which came a week after employees rejected Alaska's latest contract offer, amounted to an illegal lockout.

''The company has refused to continue bargaining about the subcontracting and by taking this action has failed to maintain the status quo as required by the Railway Labor Act,'' the union said in its motion for an emergency preliminary injunction.

Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Caroline Boren said the company's contract with ramp workers _ who handle baggage and guide aircraft into and out of gates _ allows the company to outsource work when its internal costs exceed those of a subcontractor.

Last week, executives with the nation's ninth-largest carrier said the decision to lay off workers would save the company an estimated $13 million annually.

Alaska's parent, Seattle-based Alaska Air Group Inc., lost $80.5 million in the first quarter of 2005 and is working to cut $340 million in costs by the end of the year.

Members of Machinists District 143 rejected the company's latest contract offer on May 6.