Sea-Tac Refuelers Threaten Strike Over Safety, Worker's Suspension

Oct. 04--Workers for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport's largest aircraft-fueling contractor marched with supporters to the company's office Wednesday and threatened to strike over the suspension of a co-worker and safety concerns.

In a protest largely organized by Working Washington, about 50 marchers called for ASIG, Airline Service International Group, to reinstate fueler Alex Popescu, who said he was suspended three weeks ago over his safety complaints.

Despite the strike threat, representatives for the Port of Seattle and Alaska Airlines, an ASIG customer, said they expect no service disruptions.

ASIG has assured Alaska that managers and fuelers from other cities can maintain service at Sea-Tac, said Alaska spokeswoman Bobbie Egan.

"They have an outstanding safety record and a track record of addressing any safety (issues) brought to their attention. We will rigorously investigate the allegations ... and get to the bottom of it," Egan said.

"Safety is our No. 1 priority every day ... we hold our vendors to that same standard."

Egan said ASIG told the airline Popescu was suspended not over safety complaints but because of an unrelated violation of workplace policy.

ASIG, one of two Sea-Tac fueling contractors, works with 75 percent of airlines there, including Alaska, United and Southwest. ASIG officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Popescu said ASIG ignored his complaints or didn't adequately repair problems like bad brakes on fuel trucks and small leaks during fueling.

Several ministers stood among protesters who held big photos of allegedly unsafe ASIG equipment, including a picture showing a truck gearshift panel once held in place with electrical tape.

"They fixed it; they put duct tape on it. I drove it yesterday," fueler Dale Redman chimed in.

Popescu said brakes on a truck were fixed only after he reported the problem to the Port of Seattle Fire Department. He was suspended, he said, after complaining about a truck whose drive shaft fell to the tarmac on a ramp where planes are fueled.

Port spokesman Perry Cooper said the Port investigated safety concerns raised by Popescu and others at a Port Commission meeting in August that were mostly less serious: "We didn't see anything ... alarming or out of line that they weren't able to address."

Cooper said the Port's fire chief monitors fueling systems, and any fuel spill is supposed to be reported to the fire department.

"We demand that he get his job back," Michael Ramos of the Church Council of Greater Seattle said. "... He deserves the respect and the dignity to get his job back and get a merit pay and merit reference for having spoken up."

The protesters marched to ASIG's Sea-Tac management office and knocked on the door but no one answered. They left an enlarged copy of a letter asking for Popescu's immediate reinstatement with back pay and immediate steps to improve safety.

Fuelers, who according to Popescu and Redman are paid $10 an hour, are not represented by a labor union. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), primary organizer of Working Washington, has helped in a campaign for higher pay for some 2,800 airport workers, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters is working with cabdrivers serving the airport and elsewhere.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105

Copyright 2012 - The Seattle Times

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