More non-union workers prepare to strike

Joining Walmart workers, Walmart contractor workers, and Port of Seattle short-haul drivers, another group of non-union workers is considering an unfair labor practices strike.

Aircraft fuelers who work for Aircraft Service International Group voted overwhelmingly to strike if their employer does not return a suspended fellow fueler to work and address the safety problems that the workers have been raising with management for the last several months.

Alex Popescu, an ASIG fueler at Sea-Tac Airport near Seattle, says that he was suspended after he raised ASIG safety issues at a public hearing held by the Seattle Port Commission, which manages Sea-Tac.

Prior to his testimony, Popescu and fellow workers had raised their concerns about job safety to ASIG management, but management ignored their concerns. Some of the safety concerns include leaking fuel nozzles, soft brakes on fuel trucks carrying thousands of pounds of jet fuel, and taped up gear shifts.

Holding up a picture of a fuel truck that he drives, Popescu pointed out one of the problems to a group of demonstrators who had gathered to show solidarity with the fuelers. “This is a broke gear shift,” Popescu said, pointing to the picture. “ASIG fixed it as you can see with good ol’ duct tape.”

After Popescu was suspended, other fuelers, who don’t belong to a union, voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if ASIG does not return Popescu to work with back pay and address the safety issues.

Last week, community supporters organized by Washington Working, a worker center based in Seattle, held  a solidarity demonstration to support the workers.

Supporters included the Faith Action Network, Puget Sound Sage, Our America, and Teamsters Local 117. After the solidarity crowd gathered, they marched to ASIG’s office to speak directly to management, but when they arrived, they found the doors locked and no one would come outside to speak to them.

Before marching to the ASIG office, one of the fuelers spoke to the demonstrators. “This past weekend, ASIG workers met and voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if (ASIG does) not immediately return Alex to work with back pay,” said Leon Sams. He went on to say that the company also must stop its harassment and intimidation of workers who speak out and begin to address the safety problems identified by workers.

After the demonstration, the Federal Aviation Administration conducted an investigation of ASIG’s equipment. According to AviationPro.com, the FAA was unable to verify the safety problems reported by workers.

The workers, however said that FAA inspectors failed to talk directly to them. According to a statement from Working Washington, “While the FAA has not spoken to (the workers), workers remain ready, willing, and able to show inspectors the specific equipment they are concerned about in order to ensure that these safety problems are remedied and not swept under the rug.”

ASIG has taken a possible strike by its workers seriously. Management told reporters that if a strike occurs, the company will import employees from its other facilities to fuel planes at the airport.

The workers don’t seem to be intimidated by management’s provocative statement.

“If we strike, we are protected by federal and state law,” Sams said to supporters. “It is illegal for the company to threaten or intimidate workers who are exercising their lawful right to strike for safety and against worker retaliation. Threats made by ASIG representatives to workers in recent days are illegal. And they won’t stop us. We know our rights and are prepared to defend them.”

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