Judge to decide whether to extend temporary ban on jet-fuelers strike
A federal judge will hear arguments on whether to extend a temporary order prohibiting a strike by aircraft refuelers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport against ASIG, Aircraft Services International Group.
Seattle Times staff reporter
A federal judge will hear arguments Tuesday on whether to extend a temporary order prohibiting a suspended aircraft fueler and his supporters from instigating a strike at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Aircraft Service International Group, ASIG, obtained a temporary restraining order late Friday forbidding Working Washington, Teamsters Local 117 and fueler Alex Popescu from encouraging a strike or other disruption of aircraft fueling.
U.S. District Court Judge James Robart signed the order after ASIG claimed fuelers' threat to strike was part of an attempt to unionize them and boost their pay, in contrast to fuelers' stated goals of improved safety and reinstatement of Popescu, who workers said was suspended for reporting safety hazards.
ASIG Senior Vice President Tim Ramsey said in a statement the threat of a strike "was organized by outside labor organizations with ulterior motives."
A strike over economic issues by nonunion workers would violate the Railway Labor Act and disrupt commercial-aircraft operations on a massive scale beyond Sea-Tac Airport, the company said in its legal complaint.
ASIG fuels 75 percent of flights at Sea-Tac, including planes operated by Alaska, United/Continental, Southwest and American airlines.
The company also suggested that Popescu was suspended last month for insolent behavior, not for complaining about safety problems.
ASIG's general manager for Sea-Tac, Jeffrey Stevenson, said in a declaration that he suspended Popescu pending investigation of reports that he "was out of control and had screamed obscenities at a supervisor" on two occasions. Later, while being interviewed by a human-resources manager, Popescu yelled obscenities and threw his chair across the room, Stevenson wrote.
Popescu declined Monday to say whether those claims were accurate. "That's still an ongoing investigation, and I'm not willing to speak on that," he said.
Popescu and other fuelers have complained of trucks with bad brakes and other mechanical problems, unsafe fuel nozzles, broken ladders and the expectation they will launder their fuel-soaked clothes at home.
The Federal Aviation Administration inspected ASIG fueling operations and equipment Friday, and reported finding no safety problems.
Working Washington, the labor coalition which organized a demonstration in support of fuelers last week, said the FAA inspectors failed to find problems because they didn't ask fuelers which equipment was defective.
Jonathan Rosenblum, campaign director for Working Washington, said the ASIG lawsuit "shows how desperate the company is. ... Rather than respond to the concerns that workers have complained about — safety on the job — and rather than return a whistle-blower to his rightful place on the schedule, the company is trying to hide behind a lawsuit."
Rosenblum said federal law gives workers the right, whether represented by a union or not, to strike over health and safety issues and retaliation against an employee. Working Washington is supported by Service Employees International Union.
ASIG said Working Washington and Teamsters employees were harassing fuelers in its parking lot last month. Teamsters Local 117 organizing director Leonard Smith declined to discuss the lawsuit other than to say his local is not organizing the fuelers.
Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or firstname.lastname@example.org