The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers recently negotiated a tentative agreement for Alaska Airlines customer service agents, cargo workers and other employees. Leadership say it would make them the highest paid airline employees in their category in the industry.
Johnsen is general vice president of Air Transport for IAMAW. He and other union leaders have been making the rounds to check in with members and answer questions about the tentative agreement. On Thursday they met with Anchorage-based workers, following stops in Juneau and Fairbanks.
The union represents around 5,300 Alaska Airlines reservations and customer service agents, and ramp workers — the people you see sorting baggage and guiding planes on the tarmac. About 900 of those workers are spread out across Alaska.
Their current contract wasn’t set to expire for another two years, but Johnsen said both the union and Alaska Airlines were motivated to get to the negotiating table last month to address industry-wide staffing struggles.
“And so we went into that process and we got a contract extension in two weeks, which under normal circumstances, seems to take two to three years,” he said.
The tentative agreement would raise base wages as much as 17.4% starting next month, with more scheduled raises down the line. It includes job security clauses as well as longevity pay increases. Benefits would stay the same.
Johnsen said recent staff shortages have caused a “crisis” for airline workers, from burnout and forced overtime to higher injury rates and having to deal with frustrated, unruly passengers. Johnsen hopes higher wages will help attract more workers and push other airlines to address the issue as well.
“It raises the bar,” he said. “Everybody has been put on notice. And they know it.”
Christopher Smith is a ramp worker in Anchorage who’s been with Alaska Airlines for 26 years. He said after a lot of pandemic uncertainty, he’s happy with the proposed contract agreement.
“Layoffs, early outs — this whole period has just been so up in the air and questionable. So it’s nice to get some clarity for us, and something that’s stable,” Smith said.
Smith added that he’s already voted yes on the agreement.
Alaska Airlines spokesperson Tim Thompson said in an email the company is “thrilled to make a meaningful investment” in its employees.
Voting for the tentative agreement ends August 2. If it is approved, the new contract will go into effect August 10.
Meanwhile, Alaska Airlines pilots are still negotiating a contract with the airline after voting to authorize a strike in May, according to a spokesperson from the Air Line Pilots Association.