East Bay Punk Declares War on Corporate America:
Just call me z.
My apologies if this comes across as a strange way to open this story. If I am being perfectly honest, this is my first time. I’ve never tried to start a revolution before.
I have a problem. I am no one. I am poor. I can barely afford rent. Some weeks I have to choose between having enough money to eat or to be able to afford my commute to work. You can probably guess which choice wins, because if I want to eat next week I have to keep working tomorrow. But that’s not my problem. I am suffering. I am any one of a thousand people you walk by on a busy city street every day and I am slowly being killed by corporate America.
The thing is though, that I love to work. I love what I do. I am not in the least bit lazy. My friends and coworkers constantly tell me I need to stop. I need to sit down. I need to relax. My answer is always the same, “I don’t like to relax.” My problem has nothing to do with wanting less work, easier work or even safer work.
My problem is, if I have too much time to relax I will start to let my brain wander and lately it keeps coming back to this stupid meme I saw months ago. It was just a simple text block that said something like, “Instead of asking your children what they want to be when they grow up, ask them how they would like to change the world.”
If you asked me when I was a kid, I would have said something ridiculous like “I want everyone in the world to be treated fairly.” And how on Earth could you even guide that child? Where would you even start?
I am in the middle of my thirties and I have worked my entire life doing what I had to do to pay the rent. I didn’t have a dream for what I wanted to be. All I knew was that I didn’t want my career to define who I am as a person. As long as a job didn’t try to tell me not to be who I am, to hide my true self, I would work.
I would work every day and I work my hardest and I have been a good employee to every company I have ever worked for. If you look at my performance metrics, I would land near the top of every team I have been on. I don’t say this to boast, or even because I am proud. I go to work every day and I do my absolute best. Every shift, no matter what is happening in my life, I will still always do my absolute best.
That’s who I am. Because I care. That is what I want you to know more than anything else about me. I care so very much. I always want to be better. A wise seagull¹ once made me understand that it’s not important to be perfect, it’s important to try to be better.
This is the standard I hold myself to and every single day. I wake up I try to be better than who I was yesterday. I try to help everyone I can. I can’t stand to see others suffer or be abused. I will stand up in defense of another, to defend against a bully every single time… and yes, I am this way because I was bullied.
But I learned a very important lesson and it is why I choose to stand up now.
I learned about strength in numbers.
Nothing will make a bully back down faster than a group that can make them feel small.
And kindness and a smile gets you a lot of friends. The more people you have, the more powerful you are.
Our world runs on money. But what even is money when you actually consider it? It is just a piece of paper. It’s got some funny pictures and a weird looking person on it and it’s colorful. Well anyone can create some equivalent of that, so clearly the importance is not in the material.
Currency is just a promise that you give in trade for everything you need. The promise is this:
I’m worth something. I have value.
It is proof that someone, somewhere in the world agreed that you did something for them that required a payment. You had a value, it was agreed upon and you did a job. Here is your scrap of paper, or a piece of metal. Here is a digital code. Here is some form of currency that you can pass along, and then someone else can prove they had value and pass it along.
Money is a promise to whoever you are paying that you provided some sort of value to the person who held it before you.
It is much more efficient than bartering, I have to admit.
Everyone in our world has value. Every single person has needs. Individual value is not equal. It is not equitable. It is certainly not fair.
That is just the way of existence. The universe is Cold and Uncaring and it has no interest. No interest in wit or whimsy nor for compassion or morality. The universe certainly does not have time to care about fairness.
The concept of what is fair comes from us, humans. It is just one of the many things we bring to the table though. We also bring passion and imagination. We bring love and hope and kindness.
And we bring fear. We bring so much fear into our world.
When humanity falls, our downfall will be traced back to fear.
It will not be a fear of the dark. It will not be fear of the unknown or fear of some crazy alien species that comes and wipes us out. It will be us.
The thing people fear the most are other people. We fear each other because we know that every single other person out there is just like us. We know that inside of every single one of us is not only the potential for good, but just as much potential for darkness. For cruelty. For hate.
Each one of us feels alone. The world is full of potential predators that want to take what we have and make life better for themselves at any cost. We do what we can to protect those we care about because the universe is cold and uncaring and it will never care about you.
But I do.
I care about you because I understand. I know what you are going through. I am going through it too. We are not alone. There are billions of us in fact.
The universe may not care, but some people do. We bring kindness and compassion and most importantly, we bring community. We choose to work together to make things better for everyone and that is the trait that sets humanity apart from any other species. We have the capacity to truly care for and to help one another.
Most people want to help. They don’t want people to suffer. They don’t want to hurt anyone else to get ahead. If you had the ability I would bet that you would do whatever you can to change the world. To make it a better place for everyone.
If you would choose to not help the world when given a chance, what would that make you? A monster? A villain?
We have come so very far as a species. We started in caves, hitting each other with clubs fighting over scraps of meat. In the beginning, life was a struggle.
But at this point, those days are long gone. We have arrived at a point where famine should be a thing of the past. Where poverty should be a thing of the past. As a species, or more importantly as a country, we have plenty. We have the resources to create a utopia. A land where everyone has all that they need. Everyone could be free to be happy and they could actually have a chance at creating that happiness.
So why don’t we have this perfect society? What is stopping us? It’s a very simple answer.
The desire to have more than someone else. The need to be more than someone else. The need to feel that we are better than someone. Anyone. Everyone.
Some people take pleasure in the struggles of others begging for enough even as they sit on a mountain of excess. They believe that this is what was meant by “The American Dream.”
They are under the impression that the dream is to claw your way to the top with no regard for who gets hurt so that you know you are The Best. The Biggest. The Strongest. The Richest.
Those people will never understand what actually makes us great. That it is actually our compassion and our desire to help each other that sets us apart. They will never understand what was meant by “liberty for all” because they are actively standing against it.
You are probably not one of them and you never will be. You never should want to be. Instead, you should be outraged that as a society we have been blind for so long and allowed them to run our world the way they have.
The people I am talking about are not just presidents or politicians. Others are far more insidious. The enemies I am speaking of are those who hold positions of power in corporate America. Almost every single company in this country is guilty of not paying a fair living wage to the majority of the employees it maintains². Or more accurately, the employees that maintain it. A company can’t run for very long without a staff.
We are at a point in history where there is no longer a need for us to fight and hate and betray each other. There is enough for all and yet we are being lied to. The people in charge want you to believe that there is not enough to go around. Please pay no mind to the multi million dollar salaries, extra yachts or vacation homes.
They hope we won’t notice, they hope we won’t demand change. They are afraid of us, but they will never show it. They know what we can do.
Currency is based on the value of people. Currency is just a promise that we have done something and that someone agreed that we have value. But who decided that value?
WHO DETERMINES HOW MUCH I AM WORTH?
That was a big question that I asked myself and I haven’t been able to stop chasing that answer. I think I decided I was going to be a journalist when I asked myself that question.
I know that this is a lot of preamble to a story about a boycott, but I need you to understand that this isn’t about just one company. This is corporate America. This is a story about how we are all being treated and more importantly, what happens when we try to stand up as a group and demand better.
But to understand the story, first you will need to know about me.
And really, the first thing you need to know is that I am a weirdo. It may seem insignificant, but its importance will make perfect sense.
My entire life has been nothing but a continuous series of events that point out how weird I am. I never fit in. I always felt separate and alone and very often sad.
It used to make me angry. There is so much rage that can come from being tossed aside. It’s hard to understand why you don’t matter just because someone else tells you that you are a piece of something that just doesn’t work. That you are broken, that you are misaligned, that you are jagged. Being cast out causes fury.
I chose to not let it define me.
Just because I feel anger, does not mean I can not be kind.
Just because someone wronged me, I do not need to wrong others.
I would rather go do something nice for another person instead of dwelling on anger, or seeking revenge, or paying it forward.
I would rather be kind and make someone smile, because it will make me smile, which will make someone else smile.
I am the type of person who does whatever I can to keep a smile on my face because I recognize that happiness can be contagious and kindness with a smile is something I would rather have paid forward in my name. Leave the anger to the bullies.
And these simple things I do are enough to keep me happy. So that is how I spend my life. When you find me I will usually be in a sugary sweet, chipper and upbeat mood with a Cheshire Cat grin spread across my face because I am happy.
This is just another thing that earns me a reputation for being weird. Most people don’t understand how I can be so happy and nice all of the time. It’s a question I am constantly asked and typically I just shrug and laugh. The only difference now is that people no longer reject me for being weird. They embrace me. They befriend me. They care about me.
Once I stopped being sad or angry about people treating me like I was different, once I figured out a way to make myself happy, my entire life changed. Choosing kindness over indifference, anger or cruelty made me happy and this reflected in other people and I was accepted.
But still I am weird. There is more to kindness than just helping someone. True kindness is giving to others with no expectation of reward or recognition. True kindness is the desire to help someone with no benefit to yourself other than the knowledge that you did the right thing.
True kindness is the ultimate rejection of greed.
Several years back I read a single sentence that changed my perception of reality. It was only four words long and it was penned by a truly brilliant (if not a little mad) wordsmith.³
“Time will take it.”
It is so tiny and so easy to overlook or miss and it is so important. I would argue that it may be the most fundamentally true sentence ever written. It is hard to argue that with time, everything will eventually be gone.
And if in the end we are all just stories, I hope to make mine a good one.
I’ve lived what felt like a long and strange life. I’ve travelled many places, I’ve seen and done more things than I could ever write or will ever even remember. When I am gone, I will have nothing to show for it but other people’s memories. Vague lessons learned that will be passed on as stories playing out in the heads of the people I have met.
Nothing I’ve owned will matter, no one will remember the car I didn’t drive.
But people will remember that smile. That act of kindness. That offer of help. I don’t want riches, I don’t want fame. I want my legacy to be of someone who always tried to help and do what was right.
I am happy and I am free. I have air in my lungs, people that I care about and a value I can bring to society. I have all that I need for me. I’m here to help you.
At this point in our world, greed has been personified. It is no longer a concept but something that has solidified itself into concrete and can be attacked.
Every single day the people who hoard the wealth in this country, the people at the top of corporations do everything they can to keep us living in fear. They tell us there isn’t enough, that if they give more they will have to charge more and the company won’t survive.⁴
It is time for us as a people to realize something very very important.
WE ARE BEING DUPED.
A while back, a brilliant man left his stamp on the world and came up with a new idea. It revolutionized industry and suddenly items could be produced in a time frame that had never before been seen. I, of course, am talking about the assembly line.
People could now work together to take one man’s product and produce it in mass quantities. Each individual was just a link in the chain. It is easy to teach a person just one small piece in the creation of a larger whole.
But what happens when the product succeeds? What happens when you find yourself suddenly very wealthy?
If this creator cares about people the answer is obvious. You share it with your workers. You raise wages to keep working for you and producing more. You start expanding as a company and growing, but slowly. Your profit isn’t that large so growth is slow but you have enough and your workers have enough and your company is a success.
You are now a wealthy member of society and the people who work for you feel like they matter. That they are being taken care of and that they have enough. They feel valued and appreciated and are happy to come to work. Working together, you build a successful company.
But that isn’t how it happened, is it? That isn’t how it happens today. My goal is that when our children go to work for corporate America, that is the kind of company they will get to work for.
Because we all know what really happened. With the wealth of income from that first success this product creator chose a different path. He chose greed.
Instead of offering his employees more, he opened a second factory. He chose to use the profits to expand rather than reward. He kept the money instead of sharing it with the people who actually helped bring his vision to life.
He used workers from his first factory to go to the new one and gave them a tiny bit more. Still barely enough to live, still enough to need to come back and work no matter how they were treated, because they need money to live. He had them train new employees for him. He still paid everyone very low wages and kept all of the profits. Some of it he tucked away for himself so he could become very rich. Some of it he used to open a third factory.
On and on this went and we have the beginnings of how corporate America came to be what it is. One man sitting at the top, reigning over all. Paying the absolute bare minimum to his employees on the bottom and paying just slightly more for the people responsible for training and controlling them. Meanwhile, the only way he got his hands dirty was by counting his money.
This was a grand victory for capitalism. This was the day that a handful of assembly line workers unknowingly signed a contract in their sweat and blood that would haunt workers for generations after.
They signed a contract that said “We will be abused so you can be rich.” and they set an example for every company that would follow after them.
We still accept this treatment today. This is an oversimplification of events but the evidence is clear.
Before corporations came along we were just people. People working together to stay happy and stay alive. Everyone had value and everyone played a part. Then one day some opportunist, some greedy self-interested swine figured out a way to hoard other people’s value and pass it off as his own.
And I understand why. It is fair that you get extra for the work you put in. For the time you spent inventing and building and starting a company you absolutely deserve more. If you bring something new into the world that has value for people you absolutely should be rewarded. Everyone should be.
That reward is the drive. It is a reason for people to keep trying to be better. It is a reason for people to keep trying new things and inventing new products and it is the reason why we have come so far as a species since the industrial revolution.
But there has to be a limit. Yes, you deserve more but that doesn’t mean that your employees don’t deserve enough. No one should live in a mansion when his employees are forced to live on the streets. Yet that is exactly what happened, and that is what is still happening today.
People sit at the top of corporate ladders and hold more wealth than their grandchildren will be able to spend. Still they don’t give back. They choose to expand and grow their fortune and they keep telling their employees that there just isn’t enough money. That to raise wages would put the company out of business. That raising wages will raise prices. Never once do they talk about lowering their salary. God forbid they be willing to reinvest some of the money they’ve made back into the workforce that actually made that money for them.
Recently our world has started to shift. With new technology people suddenly have a voice. A voice that can reach everyone. A voice that can’t be silenced or erased. We have a global connection that could never have been imagined on that first assembly line.
One hundred years ago the world was a very different place. There were far fewer companies. There were far fewer products. There were far fewer places to work or jobs to be had. There was nothing that could begin to resemble the amount of options we now have.
This holds true across all industries.
The top 1% of this country hoards more wealth than could be spent in several lifetimes. They could instantly lift this country out of poverty if they chose.
Instead they lobby government positions to pass laws that make it easier to keep workers poor. They lobby to have laws that would increase employee rights rejected. They pay money to convince our government to bend to their will.
Our country should be renamed “The United Corporations of America”.
But I want to deliver a message that they need to understand.
Time Will Take It.
As companies have grown and expanded and become fat off of the riches of your labor, they have refused to share it with you. They have abused you and kept you begging just to get enough to live.
But an idea is worthless if you don’t have people to make it real. You are kept fighting for table scraps and you are ignoring that this is exactly what they want, what they are counting on. This is how they have kept us down for so long.
They want people to believe that they need a company to survive, but in reality, we need each other.
They want to distract you from ever realizing the truth.
THE ONLY THING A COMPANY WILL EVER GIVE TO YOU IS THE LOWEST AMOUNT YOU WILL ACCEPT.
They are driven by greed. They want as much as they can get and they have no interest in sharing it with anyone. They get away with it because employees are afraid to lose a job and fear that they won’t have enough and that they won’t find better.
Your fear keeps you playing by their rules. I say we need to rewrite this rulebook.
So that is my grim depiction of how I believe that our country got where we are, with the most disproportionate wage gap that can be imagined.
What follows is my personal story struggling for my life under corporate tyranny and how I think we can come together and force every company to change. To make them give an actual fair wage to employees everywhere and show them that they are important. That they are valued. That they are not expendable.
I’m new to the area. I just recently moved to the San Francisco Bay Area from the other side of the country. I wasn’t exactly sure where I was moving when I started my journey, I just stopped when it felt like I had found home.
As a child I grew up in Philadelphia. I was old enough to be heartbroken over the loss of my friends when I moved right across the Delaware River to a town you’ve never heard of called Pennsauken.
Coming from a big city and moving into a small suburb in New Jersey was a challenge of course, it would be for anyone. But for a nine year old weirdo who knew nothing of popular culture, pop music or sports? It was a nightmare. I was instantly shunned as the weird new kid who liked bands and movies no one had ever heard of. I wasn’t even close to the “cool” genres. I listened to classic and punk rock and watched horror movies and obviously I didn’t make a lot of friends.
“Not a lot” dwindled to “not a one” over the years and people made up horrible stories about me and spread them. I was a laughing stock. Some very cruel people that once called me friend made my life a living nightmare for most of high school. Toward the end I did make some friends, and I love them dearly.
Suddenly people weren’t as willing to be cruel. Gradually they became nicer. The rumors started to slow and eventually most of them faded away entirely.
And then I found out why. My new friends were standing up for me. They were protecting me. They were shutting down rumors and willing to start a fight to protect me if they needed to.
And one by one the bullies backed down and somehow, I made it through high school.
Not without damage though. There was no way I was going to go any further in academia. My time in school was done, forget college. Plenty of people make money without a college degree, right? That’s how my dad did it. Lot’s of the older people I liked to hang around did it that way. School just wasn’t for me, so it was time to get to work. The only problem was, I had no idea what I wanted to do.
Because of that, my resume looks a little weird.
Rigger (heavy machine mover)
I could have had success in any of them and I moved up in several. None of them felt quite right, none felt like the job for me and I didn’t want to settle for anything less than a job I loved doing.
I was born in the land of Revolution and I settled in the land of Activism.
Finally I found myself working at San Francisco International Airport. I heard that they offered flight benefits and I love to travel so it seemed like a good fit. It was a long commute but it seemed like a job I would enjoy and it paid better than unemployment.
I was interviewed and hired by Mcgee Air Services, the ramp services company⁵ that is owned wholly by Alaska Airlines and primarily handles their flight load. During the interview they asked a fairly typical question and assured me that I had nothing to fear. They asked what I disliked most about other companies I had worked at. I told them that the thing I’ve always had the hardest time handling is being made to feel as though I was expendable. She laughed and I was promised that I would never feel that way at Mcgee. I was welcomed as a Ramp Services Agent.
Looking back I suddenly realize that I had taken that laugh entirely wrong. She was laughing at me for thinking I wasn’t expendable and I had no idea.
It takes a lot of time between when you get a phone call for an interview and you can get started at the airport. There are multiple stages of interviews and applications. I had to apply to work for the United States Post Office and be approved.⁶ I had to submit for multiple background checks and fingerprinting and drug testing and go through the onboarding process and then finally I got to the first day of our two week training.
I’m just going to start calling them rampers from here, that is what we call each other. Also, the AOA is the area beyond all security where you are actually capable of walking up and touching an airplane. It is frequently called the tarmac. At the airport we call it “The Ramp”. If I say anything about “the fleet” they are the Fleet Service Agents. They service the inside of the plane while the rampers take care of the outside and cargo.
The first week of training is in a classroom. First there is an icebreaker and introduction. A breakdown of basic rules and a general schedule expectation. Then comes hours upon hours of someone reading powerpoint slides.
I was trained by two people that actually cared about making sure that people were prepared for what life would be like at Mcgee, because it can be extremely dangerous. They are great guys and they really care about people. I finished training and I felt a little shaky but confident that I could pick up everything I didn’t know quickly.
But our new hires had a different experience.
They tell of trainers that were incompetent and showed no passion or engery. They lack some of the most basic knowledge about handling objects that will kill a worker if they are not careful.
Right before I decided to create this article I took a quick, informal poll of employees, just for me. It was a nice way of making small talk and I’ve never really known how to do that so it helped me have conversations with people I had never gotten to speak to. It was nice, I got to make some new friends.
It was also terrifying. I asked 11 other employees, one supervisor and one manager a question that seemed really important. One thing that I have noticed is that when I tell people what my job is they are always surprised by how many different aspects there are to what we do.
So just to give you a quick rundown on our duties:
People call us baggage handlers and that is for a good reason. One of our primary goals is to make sure your bag makes it from your hands onto that airplane and then back into your hands when you land. After you hand your bag off at the check in counter, Alaska will pass it off to Mcgee. First it will be passed down and sorted into different carts assigned to flights. Then, it gets picked up, taken to a plane and loaded.
We are the people running in and out of that door at the end of the walkway to the plane (the jetbridge) grabbing your bags minutes before your flight and we are loading them all into the cargo compartment for you. When a plane is landing we just do this same process in reverse.
The things that my job actually entails:
The ramp agents service the air and water on an airplane. We also hook up the power.
Ramp agents empty the bathroom waste and refill it with a noxious chemical
We walk around and pick up garbage and debris so it doesn’t end up through an engine (FOD⁷)
We marshall planes and wingwalk.⁸
We tow aircraft
And on every flight one person has to walk to the front wheels of the aircraft and block them so the plane can’t move. This is done while the engines are still running.
So the poll I was asking around about had to do with the last step of marshalling. The very last steps before we set a plane free all involve disconnecting the vehicle⁹ that tows it from the gate where it was parked out to the taxiway. One wing walker will disconnect the plane from the pushback, do a couple of other small steps¹⁰ to complete the tow process and walk away from the plane toward his partner, the “primary” wing walker. During the entire disconnect process the primary wing walker’s only function is to be visible to the pilot holding those glowing wands in an “x” formation. This means stop. Don’t move. It is not safe.
The pushback reverses from the plane and drives away, the secondary wing walker waves to the pilot before following the vehicle.
The lead wing walker “holds the ‘x’” with his glow sticks until his entire team is clear of the wing span. He then gives the signal for “all clear” and walks away, after everyone else is clear. The plane is then free to move. That was what I was taught in training and that makes sense to me.
But a few weeks back another employee walked up and asked me why I hold that “x” for so long. Everyone else just walks away as soon as the pushback and other wingwalker are next to them.
Because that isn’t what we were taught in training. We were taught you had to wait until everyone was clear before you could give the signal that literally means “everyone is clear”. It was a safety issue, this way the pilots only had one person to worry about watching and I was responsible for making sure the other’s were out of harm’s way. Again, some rules make sense.
He immediately agreed with me. It made sense to him too. But that isn’t what his training class was taught.
So I asked around and people were split. It was surprising how close of a race it was. The tie breaking vote though would have to come down to a manager, he was the highest authority on site. So I went to him and told him that I was a little concerned that a lot of people weren’t on the same page with a lot of training issues and there seems to be a lot of confusion around how we are supposed to do things. I told him about my question and the poll and how everyone was confused and someone needed to make some kind of a bulletin or an announcement just to get us all on the same page.
He told me the answer and I asked him to make sure everyone knew and was on the same page. I never heard anything about it again and every day I still see it being done both ways. That was the day I turned in my resume to our training manager. It seems like there is a problem in our training department and they are already looking for another trainer. Supervisors and managers both supported my decision to do this. Even the rampers were excited for me because they know I care and that I will try to make things better.
It’s what I do.
But let me get back to telling you what training was like. Here’s where the story gets fun!
We have giants and sword fighting, fire swamps and true love. It has…
No wait, that’s The Princess Bride. This isn’t a fairy tale and it isn’t a very happy story but I am extremely hopeful about the ending. If I didn’t think it had a happy ending I would never have started writing, the world is tragic enough. It doesn’t actually matter now what I want or believe though, the story has to be told and people not only deserve, the downright need to know the truth about Alaska Airlines.
So I am going to try my best to tell the story in order from here, but I make no promises. So back to my training. One of the first things the company did was make us watch a couple of very memorable videos. One was a computer simulation of a plane crash. The other was an actual video of a plane crash. The cause of both of these disasters was a misload on that plane. One was just a large and unexpected cargo shift.
They burned an image into our heads. They told us to treat every plane like it carried whoever you cared most about: your mother, your spouse, your children. They made us understand that any mistake we made could kill hundreds, because you never really know what little thing is going to set off a chain reaction. They made us responsible.
The next set of video training was about the power of a jet engine. They showed some silly things. A truck getting blown off of a runway into the water as a demonstration of the power of these engines, specifically as a warning to employees. It was funny and the airline that did it got sued, I think they told us it was by the EPA.
The trainers showed the scene from whichever Jackass movie had them playing with a tiny little engine. They made jokes and were responsibly reckless. They launched projectiles using the jet blast¹¹ to throw small and mostly harmless objects at each other and laughed about how much damage it was doing. The engines I walk up to every day could take a person and throw them like a nerf football.
We were also warned of the scorching heat of the blast. Let’s just say you don’t want to stand behind jet engines and move on to talking about why you don’t want to get too close to the front.
We watched a video for that too. This one was a military surveillance video recorded on an aircraft carrier. It showed someone working on the nose gear getting sucked in and liquified by an engine because he got just a little too close.
I didn’t mention it before, but the live action plane crash was a video of a military craft going down. This was when I noticed that the first friend I had at Mcgee was crying. This was the moment that I became friends with Dan.
Dan was an active combat vet. He was a nice guy and we got along quickly. He was a single father with a trio of girls. He had veteran benefits, drove for uber and was just working there for extra money but he really loved our job. From day one he decided that he and I were going to be supervisors and he insisted on it every day until he stopped showing up to work. He wouldn’t accept that I didn’t want to be a leader.
He really cared and he really loved what he was doing but it only took a few months before he realized what this company was like. He warned me but I never believed him and I just tried to talk him out of leaving. I’m glad you got away, I hope you are well.
The rest of the classroom week was mostly just going through e-learnings. Information dumps attached to boring videos with little multiple choice quizzes at the end. If you fail the quiz just go back and do it again. You have the rest of the week to finish all of these and then there is a test. If you had any questions the trainers were there.
Sometimes there would be questions. People trying to understand why things are done instead of just how. It’s easier to learn how to do something if you know why it needs to be done. At least for some. I know that is the kind of learner I am and I would be lying if I said I didn’t ask most of the questions.
But I know that I am not the only one who was asking. I know that people kept saying “yea I was wondering that too.” so the training obviously wasn’t always clear but it didn’t matter as long as you could pass the test at the end. The multiple choice test that typically has four answers. And like every multiple choice test you can usually eliminate at least one, if not two options as outright ridiculous.
So that leaves you with a 50/50 guess on a test that you can take as many times as you need without anyone even noticing. A test where you can watch a video on your cell phone or play a game while a video plays on mute. A test where you can skip to the end and read the questions and write down the answer options and go back and just search for the answers in writing. The answers are always in bold text and easy to spot.
We were dismissed early most days because we were too far ahead of schedule. We got to the final test and we were able to use any notes we had written. The final quizzes that we had spent the week taking were literally just the questions off of this test. Some wording changed here and there, the order was definitely different. It was slightly more challenging than the first test but I had my notebook. During the week I had taken page after page of notes, asking every question I had and writing everything down.
It was really important to me that I knew this information. I really cared to remember it. The death of innocent lives is never going to be on my shoulders and I made a vow to make sure everything was right on every plane I sent out. I didn’t want anyone to die and I wanted to be good at my job.
I knew nearly every answer on that test and I knew them quickly. I finished and I waited for my coworkers. I don’t like being the first one done because then everyone looks at you so I just kept poking at my computer occasionally while playing on my phone.
As I was taking my test and then waiting I noticed the trainer kept getting called over to people. They would read a question that they were stuck on and he would give them the answer. He would then go back to his computer and sit down until the next person called him. This went on throughout the entire test for the entire class, even I asked one.
Eventually someone else finished and after a few more rounds of a game on my phone it had been long enough to not be obvious and get up to leave. We were done for the day if we were done with our test and the electronic modules.
Then came an announcement from a frustrated voice. Someone had just failed the first attempt on the test.
“Don’t worry,” came the response of our trainer, “just try again. If you fail a second time then I will stay with you through the entire last attempt.”
No one fails training at Mcgee Air Services. Once you work on the ramp long enough there is a frequently spoken about unofficial rule. No one comes out of training knowing what they are doing. On the ramp you are expected to either figure it out or seek out help. I sought help every time I needed it, but you already know what I said about the same people not wanting to ask questions in the classroom.
Many seasoned workers are very vocal about their hatred of working with people who are new to our company or in newly promoted positions. They feel that they are never prepared and they have to either train them or do twice as much work cleaning up after them. Some down right refuse to be on any team with a new person and usually their demands are met. Seniority has its perks.
I’m not one of those people. I try to encourage those friends of mine to look at the problem from the eyes of the newcomer. They probably have no idea what they are doing. They are probably terrified because they feel completely unprepared and making a mistake can kill people. As people who have been here for the longest I feel they could do a lot of good passing on what they’ve learned.
They burst into laughter. They were hysterical at the idea of helping the company we worked for.
“Man, F this place. They don’t care about us so why should we care?”
I asked them if they could at least not be dicks to the new people, it’s not their fault that they don’t know what they are doing. None of us did either. And at least a couple of them actually did. It was nice that at least I know we care about each other. Damn, I apparently lied about keeping this in order.
Our second week was on the job training. We walked around as a close group and assisted flights. We were first shown how to do everything and then we were made to do it on our own. We drove every piece of equipment at least once. We did every task expected of us at least once. We learned our way around. We took turns and everyone loaded and unloaded a plane and a belt loader.
Then on my last day of on-the-job training we finally arrived at the task I was dreading the most. The one thing I will not do. No one has ever attempted to make me but if they ever did I would be physically unable to perform this task. It was time to learn to service the lavatories and just smelling the chemical “blue juice” that we use is enough to turn my stomach.
Combine that and my dislike of driving and that is just a job I am not willing to do. Fortunately I only ever serviced the lav on five planes. Four were on my last day of training. It should have only been three but I ended up in a situation with a literal nightmare coming true.
The San Francisco station for Alaska Airlines only handles three types of aircraft. My first two flights went fine. It was a very simple system to use and everything you need to remember is written down. There is an exact amount of chemical we are expected to flush through the system of a plane after every flight. I guess there is some virus that spreads through airplane toilets?
I have had to go through this training twice. The first time was by an employee who did absolutely everything wrong and the second by someone who did most things right. They seem to agree that we only need to flush with about a third of the liquid the label tells us. We only need to fill it part way too, but I don’t remember the number. I think it was half. Either way, if I was ever stuck doing this job I would use the numbers written down.
On the last flight, as I hooked up the hose it made a strange sound. It was supposed to click when it was locked into place and I had heard that noise several times over the course of our time that day. I asked the Ramp Agent who had been assigned to teach us about it. I told him my concern. I asked if he heard the click because I didn’t think it sounded right and wanted to know if I should disconnect it and reattach it.
He was fully confident that it was locked into place. He told me about the years he was working at the airport. “Cleaning lavs is actually the best job out here”, he said. You just drive around all day with air conditioning and heat. You have a radio. You have a place to hide from the rain and the wind. You don’t have to lift anything and if you are good at keeping your schedule there is tons of down time.
As he was talking the plane was emptying through a hose that wasn’t entirely locked into place, probably just ever so slightly off. When the weight of a massive flood of waste hit the hose it gave way and fell to the ground, spilling human excrement and chemicals everywhere. Probably less than ten gallons but definitely more than one. This definitely mattered. We definitely needed to report this, immediately.
A supervisor came to our aid. He scolded me as I tried to explain. He wasn’t concerned about the environment or the risk of safety to people. He asked if I had any idea how much money this could cost the company. Apparently a lot, and he told us to go away and not tell anyone. He would clean it up and there would be no report and I would not be let go. I was, after all, a probationary employee for the next six months.
I didn’t take the time to consider arguing. I didn’t want to be fired for something that was an accident. Something that I questioned. Something that I even verified with the person training me. Now I understand a little better. He just wanted to make sure I was too afraid to actually report an environmental issue. I didn’t want to risk my new job that took so long to even start. I made the wrong choice and I admit that.
I did one more flight of the same type of plane and then swore I would never touch that truck again. I was fairly successful and we will get there. There has only been one more plane I have serviced the lavatory on since. Fortunately I was never assigned that duty.
For the rest of the day our class was split up and assigned to different teams and instructed to ask our coworkers for help if we needed to. The trainer would be around periodically to check on us.
I did okay. Several small mistakes at first and I’m sure an annoying barrage of non stop questions but honestly nothing else memorable happened.
Training was over and I was officially a Ramper and I was terrified. I didn’t know if I was going to be good enough or if I was going to forget some tiny detail that would cause a catastrophe. What would I do if I cost that many people their lives? Could I forgive myself? Would I be prosecuted?
It was a lot and I still needed to get my schedule fixed before I could go home. When I was hired on I was promised a choice from a variety of schedules that were available. The person who interviewed me, the person who hired me, the person who onboarded me and the people who trained me were all aware that I don’t drive. I take public transit to work every day.
I don’t live anywhere near the airport. The commute time from leaving my apartment to getting to our time clock is a little over an hour and a half. I take a short walk, a long train ride and then I arrive at the airport. I then have to wait for the airport train, get past security and make it out to the AOA so I can clock in. It is easily a 15 minute trip through the airport coming in the way I do. It takes even longer to get there from the employee parking lot.
The train I need doesn’t run all night though. Before covid it would be closed from midnight to 5 am Monday through Friday. The hours were worse on weekends. This was common knowledge at the airport.
The only schedule options we were given were shifts starting at 5 am. There was absolutely no way I could work those hours.
I was sent to see a manager and see if anything else was possible. It was not. I had no idea what I was supposed to do and I told her that.
“You signed up for whichever schedule was available. If you can’t do it, I don’t know what to tell you.”
I asked if I was allowed to find an employee with a shift that I could work and switch shifts with them if they were willing.
Seriously? This is how they treat someone on their last day of training? This company was full of red flags that I ignored because I was so excited to be working in the industry. It wasn’t that I didn’t notice them, I just figured I needed to start somewhere. I just needed the experience.
Later that same day I presented management with an employee who was eager to switch shifts. She had been trying to switch to mornings because she didn’t want to work late nights and was thrilled.
Management said no. Because she had to bid¹² for the shift that she had so she wasn’t allowed to switch. She was a great worker too. She also left the company without ever looking back. I don’t blame any of them.
How can I? The moment management told me no, they wouldn’t help with a scheduling issue that existed ahead of time. No, there was no way to appeal. I decided I didn’t want to stay at this company either. I hadn’t gone home from my last day of training and I already suspected this company was terribly managed and maintained.
I decided right then that I would give them one year for an easy chance of getting into somewhere better. All week I had been hearing how great United and Delta are by comparison and I couldn’t wait to join one of their teams. I promised myself that in one year I would switch companies. My plan for the meantime was to become as good as possible at my job and to try to make new friends. I had no idea that this was a promise that most of our staff had made to themselves.
For the first several months of my time working at SFO I had a three and a half hour commute to work in the morning. I woke up at 1 AM and left at 2. It was typically around 4 PM when I would arrive home at the end of my shift. I didn’t get enough sleep. I had no time for a life outside of work. My entire life was work and my weekends. I became withdrawn and wasn’t able to maintain any kind of healthy eating habits. I also found myself drinking most days after work just so that I would be able to fall asleep.
In training they explained that one of the most common causes of human error is fatigue. Another was complacency. Another is distraction. In my first three months of working for Mcgee I was under constant assault by all three. Two were internal, the third came from what seemed a very large population of my coworkers. A lot of people seemed unhappy to be working here.
After a few weeks I was exhausted. Trying to go to sleep at five in the evening is not something I could ever get used to. There were very few nights that I actually managed a full eight hours of sleep. And I know that eight hours isn’t really required, you can go a long time on less. Plenty of people do.
But if you are new to a physically demanding job where you are not confident in your abilities and you are not working under close supervision and any number of things that you do wrong can literally kill hundreds in an instant…
Well feeling well rested seems kind of important. And I wasn’t. I spent my first four months at Mcgee working through constant sleep deprivation and exhaustion.
But I did my best. I still cared enough to show up every single day and do everything I could to make sure everything was done correctly. I didn’t want to be the kind of person who was just there to collect a paycheck. I wanted to make sure every flight I worked was done perfectly, every single time.
Every time I saw someone do something wrong, something I knew was wrong because I just went through training and still ALWAYS have my notebook in my bag, I called it out. I wasn’t mean or rude about it, I always phrased it in the form of a question. “Isn’t that supposed to be…”, “I thought… am I wrong?”
Most people understood that I was just a new person looking to learn. They would answer my questions and they would sometimes go and fix their mistakes. This was when I started to really have the unofficial motto of our company drilled into my brain though. The most common response I got, and still get most days, is “They don’t pay me enough to care.”
And then they just walk away.
And then I would just go and fix the problem.
In those first months I managed to build a reputation as a very hard worker and a competent one. Finally I managed to switch over to an afternoon shift and I felt like I had turned a corner. I now knew what I was doing, I was good at what I was doing and I finally had a schedule that fit into my life. I put in my time and worked through the misery and finally I was at a turning point.
I now had a job that I loved doing. I had a schedule that worked for me. I had time to have a life outside of work and life seemed like it was really coming together. In a couple of weeks I had a collection of work friends from my new shift and suddenly Mcgee seemed like a good place to work. It needed some work for sure, but I saw a reason to stay. I wanted to love the company I worked for, but maybe loving the people I work with and the job I do is enough.
Then Covid-19 arrived in the United States.
The world just stopped. There was panic. People were told to stay in their homes and to stay away from each other. You remember, you were there. People were terrified.
The airports never closed. We kept flying. Our employees were handling the belongings of travelers from all over the world and trying to protect themselves from a disease that could not be detected and could easily be transmitted and all we had to protect ourselves were cloth masks and hope.
I still take public transportation to get to work. I recognize how lucky I am that I made it through the pandemic as well as I did. I know that millions of people were not as fortunate and I am extremely grateful for my health.
During the fifth month of my six month probation there came an announcement through the company. Mcgee Air Services was laying off every probationary employee. Every week money was taken out of my paycheck to pay our Union and they did not protect us. A lot of people were let go, including me.
During the worst health crisis most people had ever seen, my company threw me to the wolves. I had no paycheck, no savings. Most other jobs were not hiring and since I had not been with the company for six months I had no idea if I would even qualify for unemployment.
Worst of all, I no longer had health insurance.
When I was asked to turn in my badge and my uniform I was heartbroken. I asked if there was any plan on when and if they were going to bring us back. The only information I was given was that they hoped they would be able to call us back eventually. They told us if it was longer than one month our airport badges would be deactivated and we would need to be rehired, go through training and probation again and basically start over.
When I turned in my badge I promised them that I would get it back. I gave back my uniform and all of my PPE, caught an empty train home and felt completely lost. I had no idea what I was going to do.
The federal government and the State of California worked together and took care of me.
I immediately qualified for unemployment from the wages of my previous job. Stimulus packages were passed. Even though I made less money at the job I had prior to Mcgee, when you took out the expenses I would lose for traveling to and from work I was actually making more money than I ever did working for Mcgee. Not only did I have enough to pay for my daily necessities, there was enough left over that I actually managed to start saving money. For the first time ever I could actually afford to put money aside for the future.
The state even gave me free healthcare! Hope started to return. I was sad that I lost my job, I was terrified for my friends and family, but I was pretty confident that I would survive as long as I didn’t go insane from boredom.
I started revisiting old hobbies I hadn’t had time for lately. I was painting and drawing a lot and I had more time to exercise. I started volunteering at an animal shelter¹³ and I even adopted a new bunny!
Shelter in place was not easy for anyone and we were all scared but I was confident that our country would get things under control and life would go back to normal before long.
I had four months of shelter in place before the call came that it was time to return to work.
I didn’t really want to go back. I missed working and I wasn’t enjoying how similar every day felt. I was bored but I really didn’t want to die for a paycheck. Especially since at the moment I was being paid more to stay at home.
But I didn’t actually have a choice. I was trapped. I was literally being forced to risk my life in the middle of a global pandemic and stay-at-home order because Alaska Airlines figured out a way to stay profitable and they needed us back in order to handle the load. They put my life on the line so they could make more money and they pretended this was a choice that they were giving me.
Let me explain:
Just in case you have never had to file for unemployment, there are several steps you have to take when you want to claim your weekly payment. One of those steps is a questionnaire. The questions that you are asked determine whether you are eligible for unemployment benefits or not.
One of those questions is “Did you refuse work?”.
If you answer yes you are disqualified from unemployment pay. If I refused to return to work I would forfeit the only income I had. I had a little money aside but not enough to survive for very long. The entire rest of the world was still shut down. I didn’t have other companies I could go work for and I didn’t want to. We were in the middle of a stay at home order and this company threw me away to fend for myself.
But what choice did I have? The company took away my right to choose and I don’t think they ever even took the time to consider that they were doing it. They forced me to return to work or face starvation and homelessness during the biggest unemployment crisis that any of us had ever seen. I felt violated and betrayed. I still do, and I know I am not the only person who feels like they violated our basic human rights when they did this to us.
They forced us to risk our lives for their profit.
So I came back to SFO. I came back every day and I still carried that same smile and the same attitude I always had. I still cared. Not about the company I worked for, not in the least. But I still cared about my friends and coworkers, even if our company doesn’t. I still cared about making sure things were done safely. I still cared that I helped people get their mail or their transplant organs. I still wanted to be a part of this company.
I was handed my badge back (it was never deactivated) and told I had to go through training again and would have to restart my probation. Training was two days long and the first day was less than four hours. After that I was certified to return to work, but still had lost my seniority and time I had put toward being a full employee, having a voice in our union and unlocking my full flight benefits.
So I started over. I still cared about the values that our company promotes and I still cared about the safety of our customers, even if several of my coworkers didn’t. I still liked the work I did and I still felt like my job mattered.
I asked about hazard pay since we were at constant risk of exposure to the virus. I was literally laughed at. “You knew this was a hazardous job when you signed up.” and that was that. Several other employees also received this response.
When I signed up for this job I agreed to work in a hazardous environment. I knew there was risk involved. But engines are very loud and pretty large. All of our equipment can be seen with the naked eye. You are taught how to do the job correctly and safely. You know how to protect yourself.
I did not agree to work in an environment where at any moment I may breathe in the wrong air with no way of being warned and that very well could have been the end of my life. I never agreed to a job where I could potentially bring something home unknowingly and pass it to the people I live with and kill them. Something I could unknowingly pass on to people in any store I had to visit or any train I was on. I never agreed to be a high risk potential carrier of a deadly disease. At least not willingly.
And they actually had the nerve to laugh at us for wanting hazard pay. I wanted to do something about it so I started talking to my coworkers and trying to make a plan to go to the union. Several people had already tried talking to our steward and they explained why it was pointless.
He told the employees who asked “We don’t pay the union enough to help us.”
At this point I knew nothing about our union. I knew they existed, I knew somewhere around the station there was someone who was supposed to protect us if things went wrong. I knew that no one had any faith or expectation that he was going to do anything for us. That’s it.
So here is what I now know about our chief steward from what I was told by his boss or what I learned in my personal dealings (or lack thereof).
When Covid-19 hit, our steward had just been put in place. He was very new to his position. He is a lead agent at Mcgee, which means he is in charge of one of several small crews of people that are assigned to individual flights. His job title at Mcgee says he should be leading in the loading and unloading of planes as well as marshalling flights and pushing others for takeoff.
As the union steward he is also supposed to be in charge of taking care of any issues that an employee wants to raise to the union, but he is still supposed to work. He is still an active employee. He is supposed to be visible to the people that he represents. Or at least that is what the leadership of our operation has told me. ¹⁴
What actually happens is that he is left off of the flight schedule. He is not assigned a team or tasks. Instead he spends his shift in a small and very rarely used break room under the terminal. He is typically out of uniform and can rarely be found when he is sought. He ignores texts and phone calls from the people he represents.
According to his boss Ole, he was never properly trained. Due to the travel ban caused by covid no one was able to fly down to teach him how to do his job and I guess the union just never heard of Zoom.
Maybe I am being paranoid, but when you consider that he discourages employees from seeking help from the union he is a representative of, it starts to form a picture in my head. It feels as though he is being encouraged to NOT represent the employees. Not to raise issues or concerns, not to seek change.
He is being paid for something. He isn’t being paid to work flights. He isn’t being paid to be in uniform. He isn’t being paid to represent us to the union. What exactly is our company paying him to do?
Are they paying him to discourage us from seeking change or to keep us from union protection? Are they paying him to keep the union from knowing what is going on but doing it in a way that the employees have no idea?
I asked the union for an investigation about this and as far as I can tell I was completely ignored. Other employees asked about installing me as a replacement steward and that was ignored too.
Something is clearly wrong here though. Either this particular individual is being bribed by the company (whether he realizes it or not) or the union is condoning this behavior. At this point I am still unsure of which.
The more I talked about the problems with my coworkers the more frustrated we all became. Several suggested going on strike but it was known that the union would not protect us. We all agreed that change needed to happen but no one had a plan. We just kept working and time passed and we got closer and closer to what seemed like the end of a pandemic. Things were gradually getting closer to normal, the world was waking back up. Lots of companies were hiring and a lot of the people that had become close friends were looking forward to an easy time finding a better job. No one seemed to think it would be hard.
Then one night I went out with some coworkers and I saw the sign. I read it and I instantly knew the answer and an idea started to form in my head. This isn’t some metaphor either, there was an actual sign and it filled me with a fire that I had never felt before. This was an entirely new feeling. I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t hurt. I was just aware and solely determined and I knew one thing. Alaska Airlines does not care about people and they should not be allowed to be responsible for people’s lives.
It was a ‘now hiring’ sign in a window. It was hanging in the drive through window of an In n’ Out Burger that is just outside of the airport. It told me that with the experience I have I could get a job today. It told me that no experience was required and that the pay range went from about what I make now to three dollars an hour more.
I can literally go work at a burger joint, the butt of every joke about minimum wage, and my wage will START higher than I get working under Alaska. I would no longer have to risk my life. There would be no danger to my hearing. No real worry of injuring my back or knees. No chance of accidentally killing anyone. I could take so much potential danger and stress out of my life and all I would have to do was be a cashier or a line cook.
I want to make it very clear here that I am not saying that fast food workers, or any other food service or retail worker deserves less. I think every employee working under a corporation deserves more and I am going to help you get it too.
But it is downright sickening that airlines can get away with paying so little to the people who are constantly at risk and that the unions just accept it.
So I sat down and tried to come up with a plan to make things better and that is what this article is. This article is my attempt to make things better not only at Mcgee Air Services. Convincing Alaska to be better is just the beginning. I am trying to force a ripple effect that other airlines will have to follow if they are to hope to stay in the sky.
Other industries will follow. Full Service Restaurants and Large Box Retail are next.
Step one was easy. I started talking to the people I saw every day. In casual conversation I started to bring up how people felt about the company and the way we are treated. I did my best to not lead the conversations or put thoughts in the head’s of people that weren’t already there. I needed honest feedback.
There seemed to be a correlation between how long an employee worked in the industry or for the company that linked directly to their hatred for Mcgee. New hires were fresh and eager and thought the company seemed to treat them well enough and that the pay was okay. No one raved about working for Mcgee. No one thought that they wanted to stay with the company long term. No one saw a future in which they stayed with the company.
Everyone thought they deserved more. More pay, better benefits, some kind of rewards or recognition. Physical labor in tight quarters and working around constant hazards for poverty wages was no one’s idea of a career. Everyone agreed that working for this company long term was not even an option. They don’t offer enough to live. It’s nearly impossible to find a place less than an hour away from the airport that they could possibly afford and even then it would be a constant struggle to have enough to eat. That isn’t a life that anyone wants.
I started asking for specific things that would make people feel valued. I asked what it would cost for them to see this as a career. How much money would you need, what benefits would you want? What kind of treatment do you need?
This was also when I started letting people know a secret. When we are hired we are told that Mcgee Air Services is a contractor company hired primarily by Alaska Airlines. They left out that we are also wholly owned by Alaska Airlines. We are simply kept separate and I think it is so we won’t try to demand the same benefits and treatment of Alaska Airlines employees.
Every single person I asked said we needed more money. We do hard labor in tight quarters under strict deadlines and we spend all of our time working around hazardous equipment and are responsible for lives. We deserve hazard pay. The magic number that everyone wanted was $10 more an hour.
Immediately I told everyone that was too much. Alaska’s pockets aren’t that deep and it was way too much to ask for. I decided to cut it in half. I wanted to make the company better, not destroy it.
Nearly everyone also wanted to have access to the exact same benefits and privileges of Alaska Employees, since that is what we are. So the list grew. There were a couple of random requests that I didn’t expect but seemed like a good idea and it turned out people were really excited about them. People loved that I was trying to bring back the perfect attendance bonus. I guess I am not the only one who has a much easier time with time management if there is a reward for success.
With a list of demands¹⁵ in hand and confidence that it was fair and that it would satisfy everyone I was trying to fight for, I was ready to start writing letters.
First I wrote a letter to the leadership in my station ¹⁶explaining to them why I was doing what I was doing and why I believed they were kept out of the union and kept separate from the people they are supposed to be looking after.
Next was a letter to Alaska Airlines *and it was addressed as from Mcgee Air Services. It told a story of someone who loved their job but had no reason to like their company. It detailed why we deserve more: the constant danger, the mistreatment during a pandemic, death, homelessness, destitution. I wrote it from the heart and I tried to make them understand why it was so important that they care.
Then I ended the entire letter with a bluff, or more accurately, a lie. I told them that we were going on strike. That the station was going to walk off and shut down our station. I gave an arbitrary date that was close enough to scare them and make people take it seriously and react quickly.
At this point I had only told a couple of coworkers that I even had a plan that I was working on and had never mentioned a strike to anyone. I knew that we were expendable in the eyes of the corporation. A walk out would just get everyone fired. I just needed enough smoke to make them think that there was a fire so people would actually start to pay attention.
The last thing I typed up was a roster of names. I made a petition that had exactly one sentence on it and it was followed by pages and pages of names. Every¹⁸ Ramp and Fleet agent or lead was on that list, followed by a blank line for them to sign.
I printed everything out and one day I walked into the station and I started making a lot of noise.
The first thing I did was take a couple of copies of the letter to Alaska that said we were going to go on strike and I dropped them on a table and stepped away from them. Then I turned up the volume on my voice and I started talking and I kept going. I went on about how we were mistreated, how every corporation in America mistreats its employees and that I figured out a way that we might be able to make it better. Right here at Mcgee Air Services, I wanted to start a movement that may change the entire world. I wanted to lift people out of poverty and I had a plan.
People gathered, people listened. I presented a petition that I wanted them to sign and explained that I wasn’t asking them to do anything. All I wanted them to do was agree with the sentence that I wrote at the top of that page and give me permission to fight for them. You can probably guess what that page said, the one thing I hate more than all other treatment from any company. It said:
“We are not expendable.”
That was all I wanted. I wanted to see that people agreed that they were worth more. That they deserved better treatment. I wanted to know that they knew that they should have a better life for all of the hard and dangerous work that they do every day. Before I let anyone sign it I handed them the list of demands that I had made and I made sure they understood. Sometimes I read it off to them, but I wanted to let them know what I thought they were worth and what I was going to try and get for them.
I told everyone that I was going to put Alaska in a position where they would have to comply or they would risk public hatred and outrage. Possibly enough to put them out of business. I made sure that I told people that that was my goal if they refused.
Eyes lit up. Excitement grew. I watched hope come to life in people’s eyes over and over again.
People were eager to sign. People lined up to sign. People sought me out because they had heard what was going on, people were dragged over by friends, spouses were calling each other to make sure the other knew and had signed. Both sides of our operation, the ramp and the fleet were so excited that someone was trying to make things better.
It made me sad to see how people reacted to my petition. They were all shocked. Not because it existed, but because someone took the time to find their name and use it personally. They were not used to being recognized and so many people told me how special they felt because I took the time to write their name down. The simple act of acknowledging them touched so many people.
I went around talking up my plan, not giving much detail. Just letting people know that I had one, that I was going to fight and that I fully believed that I could win. I didn’t lie to anyone. I didn’t mislead anyone.
When people asked if we were going on strike I told them no. The plan is not a strike.
When people asked if the union was supporting us, I said “No, but I hope by the end I will have them backing us up, even if I have to drag them kicking and screaming.”
People loved the idea of fighting back. They started finding me to tell me various ideas they had to make the company lose money, to show them that we had power. They wanted revenge for their mistreatment.
Some of the ideas were ridiculous or silly or fun. Someone suggested we could lure a bunch of geese onto the grounds with food, enough to cause mayhem and ground flights.
Some were downright terrifying. Someone listed which gates had blindspots from the cameras and someone else thought to use that knowledge to know which airplane engines couldn’t be seen. His suggestion was tiny disguised pouches of ball bearings attached to the front of engines. His plan was that when a plane throttled up, the bag would open and hundreds of shards of metal would be sucked in.
This would undoubtedly destroy the engine but it very well could kill a lot of people and do tons of damage so it was agreed that this would count as terrorism and that idea was never mentioned again.
Most people just thought that we could organize a day where we just all call in sick or a traditional strike would be enough. One day of not being able to fly would cost an airline a fortune and if we could get other stations on board it may be enough.
That wasn’t what I wanted though. Yes that might work, but I wanted Alaska to give us what we were demanding because they recognized that we deserve it. Besides, they may just fire us all.
We shouldn’t have to risk our lives every day as indentured servants. We shouldn’t have to risk our health and safety working in one of the most expensive cities in the world for pennies.
My hope was that if I climbed high enough, someone at Alaska Airlines would care. Somewhere up the corporate ladder a person would read about the terrible wages and treatment our employees are receiving and that they would want to do the right thing. Whether it be contract negotiators, a board of directors, the president of the company or anyone in between.
I just hoped that eventually I would find a person who remembered why they became a leader. That the first rule of leadership was to take care of the people below you. I set out on a journey to find a hero.
I told people that my plan was a news story, not a strike.
I told them that I wasn’t picking a fight with Alaska Airlines, I was starting a war with corporate America and I was hoping for my first ally.
This wasn’t a fight for just one company, this fight wasn’t just about us. This was a fight to make the top 1% of our country share some of the wealth that they have been hoarding with everyone else.
This fight wasn’t for me. It wasn’t for them. At least, it’s not only for us. It was for every single person who has to suffer in poverty while working a full time job. It is a fight for every person in America who was promised and lied to about a chance to prosper.
This is my attempt to do what unions were originally created for. I am trying to show people that we are the most powerful element in any corporate power structure. We have the numbers and the operation can not run without us.
You don’t need a union to stop working and demand better, you need unity. All you need is for people to come together. The unions as we know them today are just corporate versions of this idea. Over the years greed entered into their organizations too and they grew and became more and more bureaucratic until eventually they were more interested in protecting their own paychecks instead of what they were created for, supporting workers rights. They became the very thing they were designed to fight against.
People loved my idea. Everyone thinks it will work. At this point I have no idea how this is actually going to end but I still have hope.
At the end of my first day of gathering signatures I had one last task to complete. I was feeling confident that everything was going well and people were behind me. It was time to talk to the union and try to bring them in.
I had to talk with my steward. I saw him briefly that morning but wasn’t ready yet. I needed support before I had any interest in taking it to the guy who kept refusing to help. I didn’t want to just ignore him so we did have a quick interaction at the beginning of the day.
When I started my morning and first announced that I was doing something he was standing within earshot. This was an accident on my part. Truth be told I had no idea who he was and I didn’t even think he was an employee of our company. While I was trying to explain what I was doing someone pointed him out. He wasn’t wearing a uniform and he made no effort to introduce himself, I had to go up to him.
At the end of that original drive for signatures I went over for a brief chat. I apologized for not addressing him and assured him that despite what I was saying about the union I had no hard feelings toward him in particular and I meant it. How could I have any feelings toward him? This was our first real conversation and I didn’t know anything about him.
I told him that my plan had nothing to do with a strike and it was far more complicated than he understood and that I would love to sit down later in the day and explain everything to him. I told him that I wasn’t ready for the union to be involved yet and had a couple of things I had to do first.
I offered to send him all of my typed documents so he would be able to deliver them as required, but I would only send them if he made me a promise. I had a flight to get to right now but when I had some free time later in the day we would sit down and I would explain my plan. I asked him to promise me that he wouldn’t send anything to anyone higher up until after we had that conversation.
I told him sending things too early would hurt our chances of success and that I wanted to make sure we were ready. After that conversation he could decide for himself whether the documents should be held back or sent on to the union.
He promised. He showed no emotion toward what I was trying to do. He didn’t seem excited or upset or even interested, he didn’t react at all in fact. It felt as though he could not have cared less what was going on.
But he did promise and we exchanged contact information and I kept my end of the bargain. The next chance I had for a free moment I sent over all of my documents to him. I asked for a favor, an easy one. I asked if he could print some copies of the letter to my station leadership. I was running low and there were still people that needed to see it. I reminded him of his promise and thanked him for his help.
He never responded. He also never responded to the text to meet up for that conversation. Or the follow up text or phone call trying to figure out where he is and what is going on. He has never responded to a single message I have sent to him. I have asked nothing but questions he should easily be able to answer or for a quick meetup to talk and I have never once heard back.
He has not spoken up a single time during all of our dealings. He didn’t say a single word in the one meeting with our union that I saw him in. He doesn’t get paid enough to care about his job and I have no idea why he is in a position that is so important, when the most important aspect of his position is caring about your coworkers.
Our workforce is under the impression that he was chosen as the shop steward by management. What I have been told officially is this: There was a sign up sheet for who wanted to represent the union in our station. Management had the power to reject volunteers and we ended up with three stewards.
The loudest voice in the group was a great lead that everyone loved. He was great at his job and was outspoken and powerful and present. He would be the perfect voice for our union.
The second steward did not last. They didn’t think it was for them and stepped down.
The final selection was the person who is now our chief shop steward.
The loud one, the one who actually cares about people was promoted to a position that excluded him from being a part of the union a short time later. He was no longer in a position to represent anyone.
Now all we have is one person who chose to hide and tell people that our union would not help anyone. Supposedly in the beginning he was eager to make change and help people. I don’t know whether this is a lie or if during his time in the union he learned something that killed his spirit.
I didn’t expect much, but I at least wanted to know if I could trust him. That was the only reason I asked him to hold off on sending up the paperwork. I liked the idea of having more signatures but I had seen enough to know that I would have no problem filling up my petition. I just wanted to know what kind of a person he was and he made it very clear that first day.
I just wouldn’t know the answer until I woke up the next day.
That morning I woke up to missed calls and messages from Ole, the head of the union for Mcgee Air Services. I now had even more reason to not trust our union. I ignored his calls. I told the union I wasn’t ready for them and they ignored me. Now he would wait until I was ready to talk to him and I did not rush. I was inviting them into my plan and I wasn’t going to do anything by their schedule and they may as well learn it now.
I went about my morning as usual and made my way to the airport like I always do, ignoring my phone the whole time. I arrived about half an hour before my shift was to start and I sent a message to the director of Mcgee Air Services at SFO ¹⁹ and asked him if he had time for a meeting today. He responded immediately. He told me he was already on site and that he was free right now.
I told him I would be in to see him as soon as I clocked in.
What a disappointment that meeting was. What a disappointment he turned out to be.
The first thing I did was reintroduce myself and ask if he knew why I had asked him to meet me. He told me no.
We chatted a bit. I tried to get to know him a little better. I asked him weird questions to try and figure out what kind of a guy he was. He seemed very cocky and full of himself. His smile never touched his eyes and he seemed very proud.
I was pretty sure I knew how this meeting was going to end, but I hoped I was wrong.
I told him I had a plan to get the employees the list of demands and showed them. His first reaction was to laugh in my face. Not because he thought the plan was crazy or wouldn’t work, he laughed at the idea that his employees were worth the demands. We exchanged harsh words and I asked him to sit down and take a few minutes to read the letters I had written. He told me that he didn’t need to. My plan would never work and I would get a lot of people fired.
I insisted and told him that I would be back in 20 minutes to continue our meeting and I walked out of his office.
I went around and got a few more signatures and chatted with some friends and just waited, wondering if he was reading anything I wrote. Ole and I agreed later that it would be pretty absurd if he wasn’t aware of what was going on already since his boss was informed the night before.
At exactly 20 minutes I let myself back into his office and sat down for a chat.I asked him if he really still thinks that his employees don’t deserve more. His opinion hadn’t changed.
I challenged him to point to anything on the list and tell me why they don’t deserve these things. Tell me what you would go out there and tell them so they understand why they don’t deserve them.
He avoided the question and we talked in circles and the conversation kept finding its way back to that one question.
I pointed to the story in front of him and asked how he can feel that this company doesn’t view his employees, the people he is supposed to protect, as completely expendable?
He said that if I feel that way I am always free to leave and seek employment somewhere else.
Then he said two things to me and I knew without a doubt I was wasting my breath.
“Look, you are all just greenhorns. ²⁰ We can just pull anyone off the street to replace you.”
I told him that the first priority of any leader should always be the well being of the lives they have chosen to protect.
Voices got loud, words got harsh and our emotions were running high when I shouted at him one final time:
“WHY DON'T WE DESERVE MORE!?”
And finally he told me what I was waiting to hear. The words that I knew were hiding behind that cold smile.
“Because I didn’t have more.”
And then there was silence. We stared at each other for a few seconds, his eyes full of fury. But I wasn’t angry any more.I looked back at him with a combination of pity and hatred.
Pity for the man he chose to become. Hatred for the system that built him.
I made him a promise²¹, turned my back on him and walked out.
Now it was time to talk to my union. I gave the dispatcher another heads up that I was going to be on a phone call and that I wouldn’t be available and I sought some privacy. I kept the poor guy waiting long enough, let’s see what he wanted and what help he could be.
Now someone finally told me that the people risking their lives were considered expendable and I was pissed. But I also knew that I had both a story and a good reason to fight. My friends matter and damn it I am going to make this company realize it. It was time to meet Ole²².
I made the call and he didn’t answer. I waited a few minutes and called again, and again no answer. Okay ha ha I ignored you all day, I deserved it. Eventually we connected and had a needlessly long conversation.
After the small talk we just argued in circles and he really wasn’t listening to me. He kept telling me that we couldn’t go on strike and that I had to stop petitioning. I kept telling him I wasn’t planning a strike and I had to keep petitioning. Over and over, we kept saying these two things to each other.
Eventually we got to an agreed upon date for him to come and have a meeting with me so I could fill him in on my plan. We exchanged a few pleasantries and he thanked me for agreeing to stop petitioning for signatures until he arrived. I thanked him for getting in touch and agreeing to a meeting but that I did not agree to stop petitioning for signatures and I was not going to stop.
I cut off the call and went immediately back to petitioning while I waited for a response from the dispatcher to tell me which flight I should go to and who’s team I would be on.
The next couple of days were a whirlwind of running from flight to petitioning to flight and by the end I felt like I hadn’t shut up in days. I was absolutely sick of the sound of my voice. Eventually a message came that I was to stop petitioning on company time or airport grounds. If I wanted I was free to use my own time but I had to stop while at work.
I told them to ask the company if they would prefer that I petition over the internet because it was the only reasonable way I could comply with their request. I felt that if we could keep this in house we should, so I explained that and told them to get back to me with the company response. I kept petitioning and it didn’t come up again. So they recognize the power of the internet. Good.
In a few days I easily had enough signatures to shut down the entire operation and I just had to wait until the head of our union showed up. After having to cancel and reschedule on me he finally arrived. Now I had a lot of signatures and I had no idea what to expect of Ole and in the morning I got a very disturbing phone call from a friend. I was told that the head of our union was there and he was walking around telling everyone that they were going to be fired for signing my petition.
I promised her no one was going to get fired and to please calm people down. I promised I was going to take care of it but I was furious. I never submitted a petition to anyone. They didn’t even bother to look and see what the petition said. That petition was immediately removed from my bag and is sitting at my home. It will soon hang on my wall so I will always remember why I decided to do this. If your signature is on that paper, thank you so much.
So anyway, I lost my temper. It’s not a thing that happens very often but at this point I was on edge and they were threatening people I really cared about. I said some mean things without thinking and I shouldn’t have done that. So Ole, I am still sorry about the messages on your first day coming to meet me.
I still have no idea who was walking around threatening people. Ole swears it wasn’t him. The only other person out of the ordinary that was on station from high up in Mcgee. I have suspicions but no evidence as to what happened, so I just let it go. By the end of the day it wouldn’t matter anyway, everyone would know exactly what I was actually doing.
When I got to work I headed straight for where I assumed Ole would be waiting. I suggested we take the director’s office for our meeting and we sat down, both of us ready for a fight and already full of anger.
The first half of our meeting was a screaming match over what did or did not happen before I got to the station that morning and my terrible reaction to it. Eventually we both got it out, calmed down and actually started to listen to each other.
He explained why we can’t strike. There is an act that was passed in the 1920’s called “The Railway Labor Act” and several amendments and a presidential order later and apparently we are not allowed to strike. I requested information about it from the union lawyer and about potentially challenging the law because to my understanding (as not a lawyer) it seems to read as though we are not to shut down an airport. Times have changed a little since it was written and it has been a long time since one airline constituted the whole airport.
It is my opinion that this law absolutely needs to be challenged and changed. The easiest way to get a law like this thrown out is to break it, get sued for it and win in court. I am still pretty confident that the union would win that case but according to them the only way they will support our actions is if there is an order from President Biden himself that allows it.
So if this thing happens to spread as wide as I am hoping, if people really stand behind this movement, I hope it will make it before his eyes and he will step up and allow the union to step in and actually do their job. Otherwise, workers have no way to defend themselves. This is especially true if the union has been corrupted because it makes it so much harder to see.
Before we could go any further he had to hear me promise that there was not going to be a strike on June 7th. That was easy. There never was a strike.
“But you got people to sign…”
Nothing. I got people to sign a piece of paper that said that they mattered. I never asked for a strike, I asked for permission to fight for them. I asked them to tell me that they had value.
I just needed to know that they knew that. I explained my idea. The attack isn’t a strike, it’s a news story. It’s this story.
Finally he seemed to understand. It was like a switch flipped in his brain and suddenly we were on the same side. By this point in the conversation he had already earned my trust. He had fire and passion and wasn’t afraid to fight. He said everything that he needed to so that I really believed that he wanted to protect people and I happily accepted him as a friend and ally.
We talked about what would happen after this was over. Whatever happened we were supposed to go have a drink so we could talk about the next step. Ways we could make this fight bigger and have it start to spill into other types of companies, not just airlines. We talked of me joining the union and us working together. We were going to make the world a better place.
I already had a plan and didn’t need much from him. I only requested simple favors and he told me he would do what he could to help. I agreed to go through him for passing on demands and documents because we should stick to official channels and I wanted to show that I was willing to be a team player if the union was actually fighting to help us.
He told me that he absolutely agreed that the contract we are trapped under is garbage. He agreed that the law needed to be challenged and changed. He promised he would take the things I wrote and gave to him and he would put them in front of the people at Alaska who actually had the power to make decisions. He told me he couldn’t guarantee me a meeting, but that he could try. He promised me names and titles of the people in the company who said no if that was the case.
He understood that I intended to go up the ladder every step of the way until the person at the very top of the corporation themselves either said no or ignored my plea and then I would release my story and a call to action against Alaska.
He told me that it was a good idea and that it might work. I let him know that no force in the ‘verse could stop me.
When that meeting ended I thought he was my friend. You kind of broke my heart Ole.
But you didn’t hurt me because we aren’t friends, you hurt me because you betrayed the station you hold and the people you promised to protect. Why did you choose to sell out the 3000 people you were trying to protect? Was it just to maintain the status-quo? Was it to keep your comfy job and paycheck?
So when our meeting ended I made a quick announcement and an announcement that there was no strike and that Ole did his job.
One more meeting with Ole and a couple Mcgee people and the day was done. Finally it was time and I had my chance. Now I just needed to write another letter²³ because I finally had the correct audience.
The letter was a pitch for a news story I was writing about fighting for change in corporate America. I had a belief that I still have. I see a way for Alaska Airlines to not only grow, but thrive. I wanted this story to be the beginning of a new public relations campaign for the company.
The premise of the article was simple. The employees at the bottom of a company were being abused and taken advantage of. They were trapped in a seven year union contract that was supposedly fair but clearly wasn’t.
According to our union we were screwed in the very creation of the contract. It was negotiated for the whole company in a state with a much lower cost of living than either of the company’s major hub airports and obviously we are not allowed to go on strike to fight against it.
The only reason we get paid as well as we do in San Francisco is because SFO has a minimum amount that they will allow a company to pay. It goes up periodically and when it does Mcgee counts it as our annual merit increase.
Just so we are clear, our employees are paid approximately one third of what is considered “the poverty line” for a single person in San Francisco. You absolutely can not afford to live on it.
Earlier this year in the midst of the pandemic SFO also announced another requirement. There was now a minimum requirement to what the company was allowed to offer as health coverage. Fortunately none of the people at Alaska Airlines were not affected. Mcgee suddenly got a new HMO though. With the change over we also temporarily lost both vision and dental coverage.
We are still not given an opportunity for life insurance.
We are a part of Alaska Airlines, but our contract makes it very clear that we are not equal. It is clear that we aren’t even valued. We are just the indentured servants that they expect to do the hard and dangerous work needed to make them rich.
I offered Alaska the chance to make things right. I suggested an ending for my article. I offered that they could make my effort successful. One determined employee took the story of his coworkers and climbed up the corporate ladder looking for heroes and they found them. I offered to make the company glow. To make Alaska the most beloved airline in the country because of my belief that it would be unavoidable.
I saw a potential future:
Alaska Airlines recognizes need, gives in to employee demands and pledges to make a better tomorrow. I would run my story, they could build a campaign around it and the world would love them. They were offered to be the leaders in trying to make the world a better place.
Alaska Airlines is not special. They are not the cheapest, they don’t go anywhere exclusive. They don’t have the most airplanes and they don’t have a better flight schedule than everyone else. Nothing sets them apart from the crowd.
But if they admitted fault, if they pledged to change and immediately gave in to the offer to provide employees a decent quality of life then the world would take notice. People would care. People prefer a company that cares about it’s workforce. It would give people a reason to go out of their way to support Alaska Airlines that doesn’t currently exist.
People would care that they took good care of their employees who are responsible for making sure that their airplanes don’t fall out of the sky.
Then other companies would be forced to follow their example or fail. It would ripple outward and start affecting other industries. It could literally be the start of a chain of events that could change the world, and as long as Alaska stayed ahead of the curve and kept paying their employees better, no one would ever forget what they did. The company would grow and become a super power in the industry.
Employee turnover would instantly drop. Recruitment would go up. All of the best talent in the industry would line up for a chance to join the team. Alaska would be set to claim it’s throne at the top of the industry and expand and people would forever know the name of the person who made it possible. They would be known as a hero in the war for equality.
Or they could choose to say no or just ignore us. The story would still be posted, the goal would still be the same. The effect on the company would be the opposite though.
Because when people realize that a company pays the bare minimum to the people who have the responsibility of making sure planes don’t crash I don’t think they will be happy. When they see that a company doesn’t have any respect for the lives of the people keeping their passengers safe they are going to realize that Alaska Airlines doesn’t value the lives of customers either.
No one wants to fly with an airline whose motto could be “They don’t pay me enough to care.”
I swear to god that line makes me sick. I am a person who just cares. I don’t need extra incentive. I have a job and a responsibility and when I signed on I made a pledge that I will do everything right every single time. So did every single one of my coworkers. They all meant it. Unfortunately, with enough abuse, everyone burns out. I am resilient, so I am not there quite yet.
One of the common catch phrases throughout training is “If you see something, say something.” I do. Every single time I see something wrong I do. Whether it is silly and small or a very clear danger, I always say something. Constantly though I still meet that same reply, “they don’t pay me enough to care.”
Then they walk away from the problem. If it is something major I will report it as I am supposed to, but never does anything come of it. Typically I will just fix the problem myself and move on.
No one should fly with a company that never trains people on small details like “if you don’t turn off the electricity before disconnecting the giant power cord you may die.” But for some reason I still had to have that conversation with someone, right after I watched it happen. I got to experience the look of horror on their faces when they considered what could have happened or when they realized how important of a detail that was to leave out of the training. I saw their worry as they considered how many other things that may have been left out or overlooked.
No one should support a company that refuses proper maintenance of it’s heavy machinery.
Recently we had a new hire servicing lavatories and not once, but twice she ended up covered in human waste in the same shift. The first time was due to an error of another employee, but the second time was due to a hose breaking. A hose that was reportedly not changed in over a year. She was sent home twice that day and no one in management knew that she was supposed to report to a medical facility after an incident like that.
That is just the tip of the iceberg with equipment though. Every single night our station is supposed to fill out a daily inspection log for most of the equipment that we use constantly. I personally have had to do it a couple of times so I know the problems that are supposed to be reported.
Almost nothing at our station is technically operable. The people who do the inspection logs do not take anything out of service. The people who the logs are turned into do not take anything out of service. The problems are typically just ignored.
If someone actually does do the right thing, they put a red tag on the item saying what the problem is, why that piece of equipment is not usable. If this happens for anything less than a total lack of functionality the tag will just disappear and the equipment remains as is. Technically usable but not up to the standards we are supposed to maintain.
When confronted about this issue management always gives the same response. “The tag must have been pulled by the morning crew.” They said the same to me about the night crew when I worked mornings and asked.
In all of my time at Mcgee I have never once seen an employee even attempt to use a piece of tagged equipment. When they see a red tag they don’t even look to see why it is out of service. They walk away and go find another of that thing. No one is going out of their way to pull the tags off of equipment. This is either mechanics being lazy or management trying to save money on things they don’t consider important. We are required to use faulty equipment every day.
Lately we haven’t even been able to get night wands. Recently I have had several nights where I am standing in the dark and holding a stick while hoping I don’t get run over by a truck or a plane because they can’t actually see me. Because they are expecting a glowing orange light stick. At least a couple of our vehicles don’t even have working headlights.
No human being should spend their lives taking the risks we take every day, risking our lives, our health, our backs, our hearing for what we are given. Wages that only take us a third of the way to the poverty line. Wages that force our coworkers to live in cars. Wages that force people to choose whether to eat or have gas money.
No one should work in a place where the reaction to a blunt force head injury and a gaping wound was to tell the employee to clock out and drive themselves to the hospital.
And if we ask for more? We are simply shown the door. We are told that if we think that we deserve more than the bare minimum we are free to leave.
Go work somewhere else. You don’t matter. You are expendable.
If Alaska Airlines feels that way about the people trying to keep you safe, how do you think they feel about you? Do you honestly believe they care?
When I started this journey I was certain I would succeed. I was sure that there was no way anyone could actually be that heartless. Yes, it is a giant corporation, but companies are still just run by people. I still believe in the good in people.
And even if the people at the top are that heartless, there is no way that they are that confident that the world won’t care, won’t demand a change.
And even if they aren’t afraid of people demanding change, surely their ego or greed would show them the value of playing the role of hero. The value of at least pretending to care. This could potentially be a huge opportunity for growth and profit. A chance to take talent from every airline that has been poaching people from us for years. Surely they would see that this is the best possible option for everyone because this change is definitely already on it’s way.
America has entered a new and golden Age of Accountability. No longer will horrible behavior be tolerated by the public. It was only a matter of time before someone aimed that power for something big.
It is time to use our power to fight back against the greatest power and foe that America has ever known, the corporations that think that they can use their money to control us all. Everyone knows that they use money to affect government policy, just look at the Railway Labor Act if you need more proof of that.
We are know longer “The United States of America”. That title is now propaganda. We should now be known as “The Indentured Servants of Corporate America”. The only people in this country who have true freedom or choice are the wealthy and they certainly do not make up our majority.
They use wealth to control us and keep us afraid. They work us to death so that we are too tired to see that we deserve better, too tired to fight for more. Too worn down to even hope for a better world.
They have taken our unions and they have them working against us.
After a month of trying to work with our union I was informed that Alaska Airlines was not interested in my proposal. They declined a meeting. They did not give me an official response. According to Ole, they just said no. My idea had been ignored.
That was fine, I still had every intention of telling my story. I still wanted the names of the people who told him that I have no value. That they view our entire workforce as expendable.
If it can be destroyed by the truth it deserves to be destroyed by the truth.
It would be up to the public to judge Alaska Airlines.
This however is when things took an unexpected turn. I was about to discover where the union's loyalties actually reside.
Throughout this entire journey Ole has been… let’s say unreliable. He ignores almost everything I say to him and refuses to answer most questions. He has also ignored every request, suggestion or idea I have had.
His boss, the president of our union, was also good at ignoring the questions that I asked. He had no problem answering a few that I didn’t, and emphatically told me that he was uninterested in any attempt to overturn the railway labor act.
I have repeatedly asked the union for any kind of proof that they were passing information along. To this day I have no actual confirmation that the union has made any kind of attempt to help us and have seen several examples of them trying to stop us.
There is no way I would be willing to go through with this article without more confidence that Alaska was even aware that there was a problem. The chance was too great that they would be able to pass the blame and play the role of ignorant victim, absent parent. They could then just pin the whole thing on Mcgee or the union and wash their hands of it.
So as the deadline was approaching I took it upon myself to make sure that Alaska knew what was going on. They needed to know why this was happening, so I made every attempt I could to be sure it made it into their hands.
I sent an email²⁴ to the Alaska newsroom with the same documents I had sent through the union.
I sent an email²⁵ to the union heads that represent Alaska Airlines and it included another message²⁶ to pass on to Alaska.
The letters showed my increasing desperation to have someone help my coworkers, my friends. I wanted them to know how dire things are, that they are killing us by not giving enough.
My hope with the union for Alaska was that their desire to protect their employees if my threats went through would be enough to pass on the word. My hope for the newsroom was that journalists would understand the severity of what could happen if this article came out. I hoped they would view it as a duty to pass the letters on.
More days passed and the deadline I gave drew nearer. I wrote one final letter to the president of Alaska, Brad Tilden²⁷. It had everything I had written, everything I was planning to write. I waited and I waited and still nothing.
Two days before my deadline something very strange happened that made me decide to pause and not submit my article for publication just yet. Some things needed to be investigated, some things needed to be rewritten and new dates now needed to be set.
Right before the deadline a couple of things happened. One was a weird glitch with my paycheck that made it look a lot like I had been fired. I was told I would be if I released this article and I hadn’t yet, but suddenly the app we use to track our schedule and pay told me that I would be receiving no money this week. When I checked my bank account, no pay had shown up.
I got in contact with Human Resources to try and figure out what was going on. I asked if I had been fired. I asked questions about my schedule. The schedule questions were answered, they promised to look into the paycheck. They ignored the question about my employment.
Eventually the head of HR got back to me and explained the glitch and how it only happened to some. They would have to mail the check and it could be there on Monday.
The date the article was originally promised to be released was Sunday night. I already learned when I was let go before that they hold your last check hostage until you turn in your security badge. Did they just fire me without cause before I actually published anything?
I had to know and more importantly I had to give them the chance to do it. I asked again if I had been fired. I asked the union if I still had a job and whether they would protect me or not and they said they would protect me. Of course it took forever to get that response and I didn’t get it until other people started texting him to ask questions on my behalf.
No one would actually say that I wasn’t fired though, so I waited. I went in on my day off and I wasn’t sure what to expect and I have to admit that I was kind of excited. I was thinking that if they did actually fire me it might be enough to have the union actually support a proper strike.
They gave me my check and nothing happened. Maybe it was a glitch. Maybe it was a scare tactic. Maybe when I kept asking if I had been fired I blew what could have been a huge advantage and they realized the mistake they had made, but at least I still have a job for now.
That wasn’t the only reason that this article was late to publication though. Another is because I have a terrible issue with procrastination and I am so happy that I have such a forgiving and understanding publicist. I truly appreciate him for doing so much for me. As I was going through this story though, it kept getting bigger and longer and had more pieces and at this point it may as well be a book.
So another reason I pushed my deadline was to rewrite the drastically shorter version of this story.
But the final reason (and this is why you are going to laugh about that other thing) is that I am a flat out idiot. In all of my planning and research I never took the time to look at the current news with Alaska. Apparently Brad Tilden actually stepped down and I sent the final demand to the wrong person.
That would have been a huge blunder if it hadn’t been caught. I would have felt absolutely horrible if all of this information went out and I tried this without actually giving the choice to most likely the only person actually qualified to make it.
It would have been nice if any of the other channels I tried to use could have passed everything along and made it easy, but here we are. I tracked down the contact information for the new company head, Ben Minicucci and I sent him a letter²⁸ congratulating him. He got one over on me. He saw what I was doing and was letting me work my way up the chain and how he had told both unions to ignore my requests for proof to see if I would keep fighting.
I told him I understood that he knew that I didn’t even know that he had taken over and he was right to wait for me to figure it out and properly introduce myself. To properly tell him my story and give him the chance to choose, the right he deserves. If anyone in the company gets to make a decision to be a hero it is him. I wrote the letter in a way that it would look like he outsmarted me and I showed proper respect and I requested a meeting with the obvious assumption that he would give in.
It was the perfect ending, all he had to do was choose it. The offer of being a hero was right there in front of him.
The day after I sent him that email, a new sign was posted in our break room. Double Pay for the entire week surrounding July 4th. They have also been reminding people of double attendance points if you call off on a holiday. Then I was called into the director’s office by management, told I was being placed under investigation for attempting to start a boycott on company time.
I was suspended and told if it is found to be true I will be terminated. They required me to turn in my badge and I was escorted out of the secure area of the airport by the shop steward of our union. It gave us a chance to have our first real conversation.
I also received an email from the CEO, Mr Ben Minicucci himself. He told me that he appreciates us and to go through the union. He also lightly scolded me for the way I approached him.
In short, he said no.
I sent him one last attempt²⁹ and have not received a response.
They do not care about any of us. They only care about their profit. They do not view us as human beings, merely walking dollar signs. Our value to corporations like them is negligible and they have no fear of us.
So I say it is time we change that. It is time to remind corporations why unions were created in the first place.
If no one is willing to work for your company, your company will cease to exist.
I say it is time that they learn that we can fight back. People have power. We can demand more. We can shut your doors if you are unwilling to give more. It is time that companies everywhere need to realize that they have no choice but to be better, because we will no longer tolerate the treatment of human lives as expendable.
Let’s welcome the world to The Age of Accountability by destroying a company that has no regard for human life. Let’s hit them where it hurts the most, right in the wallet.
Here is how we will do it:
July 4th will once again be when we declare freedom from tyranny.
First things first, to Mcgee Employees everywhere.
If you are not in one of the stations that I have already discussed things with, welcome to the fight. Sorry if this interrupts your day but I promise it’s worth it.
The union says we will not be protected if we walk off or call out sick. Let them fire me, if this company won’t treat me like I deserve to live, I don’t really want to work here. There are plenty of jobs now that the world is reopened. Anyone who wants to call out or walk off is encouraged to but the union will not protect you.
Remember that they may try to separate us and fire a few to scare people out of action. If anyone asks if you are planning to participate, always answer that you are not.
If you aren’t brave enough to just walk off, feel free to use this script:
“I work for Mcgee Air Services, not Alaska Airlines. Alaska Airlines and Mcgee Air Services have both shown complete disregard for my life, my health and my well being. I am not morally obligated nor do I feel safe working on or around their aircraft.
I am not trying to refuse work or be insubordinate. I will happily do any other task or work on a flight from a different airline. But I can not in good conscience touch any aircraft that says Alaska.”
After that just find busy work to do. Clean up FOD all day. Sort in the bag room. Do full equipment inspections on everything and red tag everything that doesn’t pass. Just do not work on flights but keep working.
Together we will just freeze Alaska Airlines and in a single day they will lose more money than they would have if they had just given in.
But we need more. If we do this they are just going to start nickel and diming us and try to convince us to take less than we are worth. We are already aware that we are asking for less than we are worth and so are they. We will go no lower.
To make sure that they are aware of the pressing nature of the threat we are going to need to send a very loud message. It needs to be big enough to not only be noticed by Alaska, but by every corporation in this country. They need to recognize that we are coming after them next.
We need to stand together in unison and say in a single clear voice that the American People will no longer tolerate this mistreatment.
No longer will we accept not being able to afford to live.
No longer will you treat us as anything less than a human who deserves better.
We are not expendable and you will recognize that.
The first thing I told you was to call me z. That is a nickname I have carried for so long. It’s short for zero and it was given to me at a time when I believed it to be true. I have spent enough of my time being treated as worthless. It is not true. I have value. You have value.
Now let’s stand together and show them that we have power.
On Sunday July 4th, 2021 at two PM we will shut Alaska Airlines down.
We will freeze the operation and they will not fly. They have enough salaried supervisors and managers to help land anything already in the air.
This is where you come in.
I call on every single reader who has ever had to suffer under a corporation to join me in sending a message, and we are going to use Alaska Airlines as an example.
I ask you all to boycott Alaska Airlines in the name of human rights and decency.
Demand refunds for any purchased tickets, make it clear why. If you are planning to travel, book it with any other airline. Alaska’s prices aren’t that good anyway.
Dump your stocks and spread the word, companies will either care about the people that they employ or they will be driven out. Make sure you share this article.
I have no interest in revenge for the way I have been treated, I just don’t want to see it happen to anyone else. Worse still, I don’t want to see the aftermath of a smoking crater and hundreds of people because someone just “didn’t care” about the wrong thing.
There is only one way to punish this company. We are not allowed to defend ourselves so I am asking you the people to do it for us. If you are free on July 4th or if you are willing to call out of your job to help others, I have a request. Go down to your local airport and carry a sign. Protest Alaska Airlines in place of all of the employees who are being threatened by their employers and their union if they try to stand up for themselves.
I am stationed in San Francisco International Airport and this city and its surrounding areas have always been known to lead the charge in the fight for human rights. I hope you are all willing to take this stand and join this fight, because this is not just about the people working for an airline that need your help. This is how we start fighting to make change on a massive scale. This is how we begin to take money from the 1% and start redistributing it. But we need a massive show of force. Show that you care.
Together we can force them to change. Together we will force every major corporation to follow.
There is only one real way to punish a company and that is to take away their wealth. Let’s show them that that is exactly what we are going to do.
If Alaska Airlines refuses to see the value in the lives of its employees, than
Fuck Alaska Airlines.
Let’s put them out of business.