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Business/Economy

Anchorage airport fuelers won’t strike after all

The threat of a strike by workers who deliver jet fuel to most airlines at Anchorage's international airport was averted this week after they voted overwhelmingly for a contract agreement with Menzies Aviation.

Menzies sought an order in U.S. District Court in Anchorage last month that would have denied the airport workers the right to strike. The request was denied.

The company and the union representing its 71 workers then moved into negotiations over the Labor Day weekend and emerged with a tentative contract. The fuelers officially approved the contract late Tuesday.

Glenn Farmer, a representative for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the union representing the fuelers, said approval of the contract, which covers wages and benefits, was a big relief.

He said he was also pleased by the federal court's affirmation of a crucial point: that the airport workers were governed by the National Labor Relations Act. The company had argued that the Railway Labor Act applied to the workers, an important distinction that would have made it easier for the company to obtain a court injunction to bar a strike.

"We won straight through," Farmer said. "We won in court, we got a very good contract and our union has the right to represent the members under the National Labor Relations Act, which was by far the biggest issue because it gave us the right to bargain under the law and the right to strike."

The three-year agreement, which expires in 2020, includes wage increases and improvements in bereavement leave, and allows new hires to more rapidly reach the maximum salary level. Health care coverage, sick leave and vacation policies remained intact.

Menzies spokesman Chris Byrne said the company "has no comment at this time."

Menzies, based in Edinburgh, Scotland, has struggled with the union over the validity of the labor agreement that originated under a company that Menzies purchased, Aircraft Service International Group.

Menzies fuels 90 percent of the air traffic at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Its employees operate a pumping station at the Port of Anchorage that sends jet fuel through a pipeline system to large storage tanks at the airport. Workers distribute the fuel at the airport by truck and pipeline.

Throughout the contentious dealings, work was not interrupted.

Farmer spoke to Alaska Dispatch News as he waited for his plane to leave Anchorage for Seattle, where the union's district office is located.

"It was the best contract they've seen in years," he said. "All things considered, I think we've done really well."

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