Photo courtesy of Working Washington
Fr. Jack Mosbrucker speaks to Alaska Airlines shareholders.
Photo courtesy of Working Washington
Fr. Jack Mosbrucker speaks to Alaska Airlines shareholders.
Portlander Tina Cummins, 58, works through the night cleaning the cabins of jets so passengers on Alaska Airlines have a sparkling experience.

But the chemical cleaners she uses leave her voice raspy and her nose stuffed, even well after her shift ends at 6:30 a.m. She breathes in jet fuel fumes as a crew of 10 workers rushes to spruce up about 10 planes per night, sometimes lacking vacuum cleaners.

The $12 per hour Cummins receives after seven years on the job does not go very far, she explains, and the pay does not seem fair, considering how important her cleaning is to the success of Alaska, whose share value has tripled in two years.

Alaska announced a record $94 million first quarter profit for 2014.

“I have to budget tight and pray for no emergencies,” says Cummins, who helps support a retired husband, a daughter and a grandson.

She was part of a delegation that traveled to Anchorage this spring to ask Alaska officials and shareholders to improve pay and work conditions and drop opposition to a $15 hourly minimum wage policy that could take effect at Sea-Tac Airport near Seattle.  

Were wages to increase in Portland in a similar way, Cummins says she could catch up on medical bills, get groceries and make sure there is gas in the tank.  

Father Jack Mosbrucker, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Portland, was a spiritual leader for the Anchorage delegation.

He handed out a written prayer and spoke to shareholders about the injustice of making large profits while cleaners, baggage handlers and ticket agents cannot live with dignity. He countered what he called the sunny “corporate narrative” with stories of struggling employees.

"Pope Francis said, 'Inequality is the root of all social evil,'" Father Mosbrucker says. “This is about justice. That is the foundation. It’s not legal justice but rather about the justice of God which is a distributive justice. God wants all his creatures to be taken care of.”

Father Mosbrucker and others in the delegation want Alaska to pressure contract companies like Menzies Aviation in Portland to treat employees like Cummins better.

“These are front line workers, the people passengers meet,” says the priest. “They are the ones making money for Alaska.”

After the meeting, the delegation was able to meet with Alaska’s top officials, including CEO Brad Tilden.

Outside the meeting, the flight attendant union organized a picket emphasizing a two-year dispute over wages, scheduling and benefits.  

Alaska executives say their company is among the fairest in the airline industry and has raised wages for its contract workers. Alaska Airlines said it has raised the minimum wage for most of its Seattle-based contract workers to $12 per hour, an increase of $2 per hour.

Airline officials say despite recent financial success, they still need to be mindful of the bottom line in a competitive industry which has seen dozen of companies die off.

Meanwhile, Alaska has pledged $1.5 million to support job training at Sea-Tac.