More than 150 fuelers, dispatchers and mechanics working at Seattle-Tacoma Airport voted this week to ratify their first-ever contract with the trade union Teamster.
The smell of jet fuel was strong in the meeting room, as workers voted enthusiastically and overwhelmingly in favor of the contract, a contract which makes them among the highest paid Swissport fuelers in the country, and codifies strong language that will dramatically improve their daily lives on the job.
The workers first voted to join Teamsters Local 174 in March of 2018, after a challenging organizing drive spearheaded by Local 174 Director of Organizing Meaza Ogbe.
“Despite cultural and language barriers, the group was eventually able to agree on one important thing: they wanted respect on the job,” Ogbe said. “Yesterday, they proudly voted to guarantee they will be treated fairly by their employer.”
The new contract guarantees respect in many ways. Not only does it ensure that workers will be fairly compensated for the physically backbreaking work they do, it also ensures that things like favoritism, being forced to work through breaks and lunch and being penalized for using protected leave will be in the past at Swissport.
“This contract remedies most of the major issues the membership identified at their demands meeting held last April,” said business agent Michael Walker, who will be representing the group. “This is a major victory for everyone.”
The trade union said negotiations were contentious at times, especially during the holiday season when workers voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike that would have shut down Sea-Tac airport. A strike it said seemed imminent yet again just a few weeks ago, until Swissport management “finally decided to do the right thing and give their workers a fair contract”.
“This contract is far more than just record-setting wages, as it includes all the core basics you’d expect in a union contract—seniority, union security, grievance procedure, ‘just cause’ discipline – truly the whole package,” said Local 174 director of negotiations, Patty Warren. “It was a tough negotiation, but in the end we reached an agreement that is fair to everyone, and will really make life better for these workers.”
“Before this contract, people worked at Swissport for years and got nothing – no raises at all, and no respect,” said Swissport employee and bargaining committee member, Vailili Malauulu. “This contract changes everything. No more discrimination or favoritism. The old Swissport is gone; we are Teamsters now.”
“Everyone should be proud of this contract and the incredible improvements it will make for these hardworking Teamsters,” said Local 174 secretary rreasurer Rick Hicks.
“This fight wasn’t just about money. It was about respect for a group that is largely comprised of minorities, making minimum wage doing a difficult, smelly job out in the elements – a job that most of us would balk at performing ourselves.
While we are pleased Swissport management decided to do right by their workforce, we still have a tremendous amount of work left to do in exposing the price-fixing done by the airline industry in taking advantage of a mostly immigrant workforce.”
“This strong Teamster contract is going to benefit everyone involved, and is just the beginning,” Hicks added.