Union fuelers, mechanics and operators who service most airlines in Anchorage, including Alaska Airlines, as employees of contractor Menzies Aviation, are preparing for a possible strike while heading into negotiations with the company this week.
An official at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport said airlines that use the contractor have other options and could continue to fly even if there is a strike.
The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents the workers, has been wrestling with the company for months over the right to bargain for a new contract after the most recent one expired.
Menzies asked a federal court in early August to bar its workers at the Anchorage airport from striking. The complaint — filed by Aircraft Service International Group, a company Menzies acquired earlier this year — claimed the workers weren't governed by the National Labor Relations Act, but, instead, by the Railway Labor Act, which would make it easier for the company to obtain an injunction that could bar a strike.
But the workers prevailed. U.S. District Judge Russel Holland said in an Aug. 22 order the company "cannot unilaterally withdraw its voluntary recognition of the union" and the workers are covered under the NLRA. Holland denied the company's request for an injunction to prevent a strike.
"We are very disappointed by the ruling and are currently evaluating all of our legal options," the company said in a statement Tuesday. The company did not respond to questions about what, specifically, it wants from the negotiations.
In a strike sanction vote in June, 96 percent of workers who voted were in favor of a strike, according to the judge's order. Now, workers are ready to take that action if negotiations don't move forward.
"Our intent is to get a contract — it always has been," said Glenn Farmer, a business representative for the district of the union. "What this has always been about from the beginning is our right to represent the members."
Last week, Farmer said, 100 percent of the workers who voted in another vote favored striking if the company doesn't "bargain in good faith."
The Menzies workers serve 17 air carriers at the Anchorage airport — at least 90 percent "of all into-plane fueling services" for commercial passenger and cargo flights out of the airport, according to the ASIG complaint.
The company has about 70 union fuelers and other employees there, according to last week's court ruling. Menzies, through ASIG, also manages tank farms at the Port of Anchorage and the airport. It also oversees and maintains a 7-mile pipeline suppling jet fuel from the port to the airport.
John Parrott, manager at the Anchorage airport, said air carriers have options that would allow them to continue flying in the event of a strike.
"Menzies is not the only fuel provider," he said. "There are options. Whether or not they're fast and have as much capability — no doubt there would be some loss of efficiency. And the carriers are concerned, but nobody has come to us and said, 'We're not going to be able to operate.' "
Parrott didn't want to comment on negotiations involving nonairport employees.
"As the airport, we do not interject ourselves in the dealings of private companies," he said.
Alaska Airlines is one company that works with Menzies.
"We are aware that negotiations are currently underway and are confident that Menzies and the IAM will be able to reach an agreement," Alaska Airlines spokesperson Ann Johnson said in an email.
Negotiations between the union and the company were set for Wednesday and Thursday.
"If they come to the table and bargain in good faith, then no problem," Farmer said. "If they put us off or do surface bargaining, we will pull the trigger."