Below the Radar

Sea-Tac Airport’s Harmful Working Conditions, One of the Worst Among West Coast Airports

March 2013 - For decades, the local airline industry has cut costs on ground-based operations that are critical to passenger air service including baggage handling, cabin cleaning and wheelchair services. By outsourcing these services to businesses with lower wages and fewer benefits, the industry’s workers, their communities and travelers have been subjected to many unintended, negative consequences.

The report compares SeaTac Airport with four major West Coast airports (Los Angeles International, San Francisco International, Oakland International and San José International). These four other West Coast airports implemented standards to reduce poverty, strengthen safety and security, improve public health and minimize the public cost of their low-­‐wage workforces.

“At these major airports on the west coast, the airline industry along with policymakers played the leading role in establishing necessary reforms that allow people to make ends meet while meeting airline and customers needs for growth and shared prosperity,” said King County Councilmember Julie Patterson.

Some industry leaders recognize the relationship between improved workplace standards and the success of their airline. Anne Naylor, a senior director of ground operations for Southwest Airlines, who supported new policies in San Jose, was quoted in an industry publication saying, “Other airlines are playing a dangerous game with their customers. Although they may save on ground handling fees and maximize profit in the short-­‐term, they are damaging the relationship of trust with the passenger. Such an approach is far less likely to lead to loyal customers.”

“Airline contractors compete fiercely by cutting costs that can also compromise airport security, public health and passenger safety,” said Nicole Keenan.

Major airlines flying in-­‐and-­‐out of airports all along the West Coast abide by these reasonable, fair-­‐ wage standards, yet at Sea-­‐Tac Airport they fail to do so.

“Alaska Airlines has logged record profits for several years while embracing these enlightened policies all up-­‐and-­‐down the West Coast. But here in Seattle – where loyal employees laid the foundation for Alaska's success – the company allows working conditions to stagnate and decline,” said Bruce Herbert, Chief Executive of Newground Social Investment. "An economically secure workforce is a motivated, productive workforce – which pays dividends in terms of retention, output, safety, and long-­‐term reputation.

The report recommends that agencies responsible for the health and welfare of King County residents should work together to enact policies and programs that align with the standard set by other West Coast airports. Alaska Airlines can and should lead this transformation.