Thursday, December 29, 2005

Support Unions or Die

Here's one for the "The Company Saves Money, You Lose Your Life" file. It seems that the Alaska Airlines jet that had a hole in its fuselage the other day suffered a teensy-weensy accident. On the ground. When a non-union baggage handler rammed the plane with his cart prior to its take-off. And didn't tell anyone. The Los Angeles Times (via the Houston Chronicle, since all papers are one as all those journalism jobs get cut, too) reports:

The Alaska Airlines jet was parked at its gate when a baggage handler bumped his loading cart into the plane. Just a minor bump, he later told investigators; so minor, he said, he did not even tell anyone about it at the time.

And so the MD-80 twin-engine jet took off from Seattle late Monday afternoon, bound for Burbank, Calif.

Twenty minutes into the sky, however, with a loud popping sound, that little bump abruptly sheared into a 12-inch gash in the fuselage. The sudden, painful loss of pressure caused nearly all the 140 passengers on Flight 536 to tug at their ears, said Lisl Wright, a production assistant at American Idol, who was in seat 31-F.

Oxygen masks dropped down, and there was a loud rushing noise that another passenger, Jeremy Hermanns, a marketing manager in 28-D, likened to "a leaf blower in your ear." The pilots launched into a sudden descent from 26,000 feet, returning to Seattle.


The incident also has touched off renewed tensions between Seattle-based Alaska Airlines and its unions over the outsourcing of baggage-handling jobs.

The airline let go of nearly 500 baggage and ramp-service employees last spring and, in a move it said would save $13 million annually, hired British-based Menzies Aviation to handle the job instead.

Alaska said at the time that it was confident it could "continue moving Seattle customers' bags reliably while reducing our operating costs significantly."

But unions said the lower-paid, less experienced contract workers would hurt operations, and in the first several weeks of the new arrangement, various snafus led to so many delayed flights and late deliveries to baggage claim that the airline issued a public apology.

It's one thing for baggage to be late, but you don't want to make your passengers late, as in "the late, great Lisl Wright, production assistant at American Idol." Something tells me those lawsuits will cost you a lot more than $13 million.

Oh yeah, people will die and the lives of those who survive them will be wrenched into miserable hell, but I thought by pointing out the money lost I might get Alaska Airline's attention. You got to learn to talk business with these people.


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