Dennis Ferry, a whistleblower who worked for an Alaska Airlines subsidiary, had planned a July 4 protest at San Francisco International Airport calling for better work conditions. But, on Friday, he was fired. Other workers fear that if they protest, they could be next.
At McGee Air Services, a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines, ramp workers like Ferry load and unload planes while fleet workers clean them. Working on the ramp is a high-stakes job, one where if luggage or cargo are loaded improperly, it could topple a plane, according to a Federal Aviation Administration handbook and multiple ramp workers interviewed.
“The first thing they drill into our head is that if we fuck up, we make a mistake, an entire plane full of people very well may just fall out of the sky upon takeoff, and everyone will die,” Ferry said. “And they pay us the absolute bare minimum with that kind of stress.”
The 35-year-old Oakland resident wrote about his experiences working at the subsidiary in a 23,000-word post on a website his friend helped him create, published on Tuesday and signed as Z. On Thursday, he confirmed that he was the author.
The article alleges that McGee Air Services gives Alaska Airlines’ ramp and fleet workers at the San Francisco airport the bare minimum, and their union, International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO, Local 142, does little to stand up for them.
“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,” Ferry wrote in his article. “Wages that force our coworkers to live in cars. Wages that force people to choose whether to eat or have gas money.”
He was suspended pending an investigation on June 27, and the company fired him for alleged misconduct on Friday. He provided Mission Local the notices of suspension and termination.
In response to press inquiries, the marketing and public relations company for McGee Air Services stated it provides competitive pay and benefits, bonuses and travel privileges and works closely with the union to prioritize employee needs.
“We respect the right of Mr. Ferry to voice his opinion,” the company added.
Inquiries sent to the union were not returned at press time.
Because the union contract prohibits striking, Ferry recommended in the post that, at 2 p.m. on July 4, workers instead offer to work on an assignment unrelated to Alaska Airlines aircraft, such as cleaning, sorting in the bag room or checking equipment.
Ferry hopes that members of the public will show support by boycotting or protesting the airline, at 12 p.m. on July 4, at Alaska Airlines Terminal 2.
His demands include $5 hazard pay and similar benefits to employees at Alaska Airlines, who have the same union but a different contract, he said. Those employees, including those working at the counter, get life insurance and priority on flights, he added.
Ferry said that prior to his suspension, most of his colleagues seemed ready to participate.
Several interviewees said support for the demands were unanimous among workers, but the fear of retaliation runs high, and they don’t know how many ramp and fleet workers may participate. Two said they feared losing their jobs and being unable to support their families.
“If we wouldn’t lose our job, I’m sure everyone would walk out,” said a coworker who asked to remain anonymous, fearing retaliation.
Added another, the day before Ferry was fired, “They’re really out to get Dennis.”
Ramp workers interviewed reported feeling underappreciated and expendable by management as well as underrepresented by their union.
Back and shoulder injuries are common, they said. Equipment red-tagged as inoperable is rarely fixed, multiple workers said, and the wand-like orange light sticks used to guide airplanes have been short in supply.
“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,” Ferry wrote in his article.
He added that ground vehicles without working headlights or emergency breaks haven’t been fixed, which other ramp workers confirmed. Ferry said two vehicles hadn’t been fixed after he tagged them five times for having dysfunctional emergency brakes.
Employees called their training ineffective, and said that new workers usually learn on the job.
“Trainers are ass,” one employee said. “When new people come and get out of [training], they basically just don’t know anything. I’m like, ‘What did trainers teach you?’ The trainers expect you to teach them — not my job.”
Ramp workers said they’re paid $19.05, the minimum wage for employees at San Francisco International Airport. They said they have fewer benefits than employees hired directly by Alaska Airlines.
Aspiring employees are drawn to the job by the free flights, but workers say flights are hard to score. Even if they fly somewhere, it’s common to have requests for flight returns declined, meaning they’ll have to pay for the trip back.
The union contract also prevents them from going on strike, a stipulation from the Railroad Labor Act of 1926. In an email obtained by Mission Local, the union president said the contract is amendable every seven years but doesn’t expire.
In May, Ferry asked his coworkers to sign a petition that read, “We are not expendable.” Of some 200 workers, around 70 percent signed, he said.
“Ferry said, ‘You guys deserve better because you’re out there breaking your back every day lifting these heavy bags, and they show no type of appreciation,’” one ramp worker said, recalling how Ferry would explain the message to his coworkers before they signed.
After many appeals to the company and the union for better conditions to no avail, Ferry said, he published his story.
Hired in October 2019, Ferry would at times have to pick between whether to spend on food or his commute, he wrote. He was laid off in April 2020 and lost his health insurance.
Ferry saved more than he could previously through unemployment benefits, but McGee Air Services asked him to return on Aug. 1, and he couldn’t decline, lest he risk losing his unemployment benefits.
“… 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,” he wrote in the article. “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.”
He added, “No one wants to fly with an airline whose motto could be, ‘They don’t pay me enough to care.’”
Ferry still has hopes the protest and boycott will come to fruition. Beyond that, the article calls itself a stand against other corporations, one where Ferry hopes others can use the same pseudonym, Z, to protest poor work conditions across corporations.
The article has been updated with a response from the marketing and public relations company for McGee Air Services.
I worked for McGee but has since moved to an airline and have seen this guy around. Work at McGee is actually easier since they operate mostly regional flights. Even their “heavy” flights are not as bad as other airlines’ <100 seaters. Also, do you really think they would entrust the load integrity of the aircraft to just anyone who can easily be hired from the street provided they pass background and drug tests without incentive? The person responsible gets differential pay, and even then aircrafts have tolerance and failsafes for major fuckups that could endanger the lives of its passengers. The wage is competitive enough if you factor the perks, free medical, and easy OT. What McGee needs to work on is hiring better people by making sure they are physically fit. I remember my frustration there was from working with lazy people who could barely lift 30 lbs and would rather do the easy work all the time, even in overtime.
I work for this company, at a different airport, as the station Safety Specialist. The problems this man raises are only the tip of the iceberg. Working at the administrative level, I’ve seen everything he has said and more. From day one the company’s mottos are drilled into your head, “Ready, Safe, Go” and “Alaska/McGee never sacrifices safety for a timestamp” but for the past two years all I’ve seen them do is sacrifice safety to meet timeframes. Part of my job as the station Safety Specialist is to keep track of safety related issues and implement solutions to prevent incidents, however, most times my solutions are dismissed without explanation. When these incidents come back and result in damage or employee injury, I have to send a hundred emails that all say “I told you so!”
I understand, to people that don’t work for this company or have never worked for an airline ramp company, some of the things he is saying might seem too extreme to be true. But working in the position I do, at the level I do, seeing and hearing all the problems from across the system? Dennis Ferry, if only you knew how bad things really are…
Everything that this young man said is true. Safety is comprised daily. I too worked for this disgraceful company. Passengers are in grave danger everyday because of unskilled untrained ignorant people who have been “grandfathered” into their positions. You have supervisors who are high off of drugs. You have people loading planes who can’t read. You have people working in the bagroom stealing contents from luggage. You have trainers who can’t read or write and sending new employees to their deaths! You have employees drinking on the job. These are the same employees thats leaving luggage behind as the aircraft takes off. If this company’s contract is not taken from them they will be responsible for many people getting killed. Stop the mayhem!
It’s time people got paid a “Living Wage” , one that affords people to live with dignity, like housing, food, ability nor only to exist, but have a life.
I mean this should be the norm for every job.
We have insane gap in the income inequality here where people that doesn’t do much get paid the lion share, and skip out on their tax. While the poor aren’t just poor, but unable to have a life despite working!
People didn’t live like that back in the 60s. And slowly with every corruption things have changed to this mess.
*And no this isn’t about Democrat vs Republican thing. Both parties, congress, and wealthy corrupt people are complicit in creating this mess.
Retaliation and stigma against Whistleblowers causes more harm to the employee and leaves the public vulnerable.
It’s amazing to me the whining of somebody who thinks $19 an hour isn’t a livable wage, especially when you can easily work OT and have chances to make an extra $2.50 an hour pretty easily, you just have to want it. Stop playing the victim, if you’re aren’t happy, move on. Oh yeah, he probably didn’t mention that everybody that works at the airport gets Health insurance for the employee and all dependents at no charge to the employee….that 19 an hour suddenly goes further when you don’t have to pay for that.
Oh ya, you should probably do actual fact checking. I’m one of the employees and nowhere near 70% of people signed. In fact, Dennis lied to everybody about what he was doing and trying to get support for. Once people realized what he was actually doing, they asked to not be involved at all. Great research!
If you are indeed one of the fellow employees then where are you living that $19/hr in the Bay Area is a livable wage? Surviving is different than thriving and everyone deserves an opportunity to not have to struggle with food vs gas. $19 an hour is a pittance here in the Bay and you trying to discredit his cause just paints you as a liar with that kind of claim.
No one here believes that you’re anything but a corporate shill posing as a employee. Someone that has the time (I don’t) should just go ahead and do some research around this. Perhaps there is a slander suit against you out there.
So because I’m offering a different side, I’m a corporate shill? I work just as hard to do my job as anybody else and have a right to offer the side that’s not being talked about on here. I guess I don’t have a right to do that because I’m not automatically jumping on the bandwagon.
Been unemployed for 8 months because of Covid. Reading this article, I just read “job opening.” You don’t know how good you got it until you don’t. Good luck in your next venture.
Good for him!
Many more people need to stand up to these corporations. They get away with a lot, for more money in their pockets.
His fellow employees need to stand up too. If you band together it works better.
Retaliation is a big “no-no”.
Employers pay for skill. Present the company with a higher skill to increase your remuneration. Ferry – pay for skill; simple reality.
By all means lets keep putting our lives in danger by trusting in the hands of unhappy, unskilled, and low paid employees who can’t afford to pay rent. What could go wrong? Well… you get what you pay for.
Free country, if they don’t like it, look elsewhere. I don’t want my travel to double because a kid wants to turn a not skilled job into a career.
I hope you’re the only one on the flight that gets mispacked by one of these “unskilled” workers.
If you don’t like your job you can quit. $19.05 for a hour and you can’t afford gas AND food? Sounds more like a budgeting issue. Im applying there now. This is an entry level job almost anybody could do especially college age.
Don’t forget rent. $19.05 an hour is roughly $40,000 a year. Rent in the Bay Area varies, but he could be paying most of that to live in a studio.
Obviously you’re not from the San Francisco area. A 2 bedroom apt is around 3k+ a month. People literally rent a space on their living room floor for $700 a month. Even on the outskirts, Tracy etc he is still looking at insane rents.
Food is outrageously priced and depending what town you buy it in, you could be taxed several times.
Gas is always over $4.00 a gallon . So, yes, at $19 a hour, he has to choose between food and gas.
19.05 an hour is peanuts in the Bay Area. Don’t make absurd comments just because you aren’t aware of the cost of living and it’s higher than where you are from. The lowest you can really expect to pay here is like $1200 for a studio if you’re lucky. Assuming you work full time you might make $3000/mo before taxes and that’s just for housing. After food, transportation, utilities for the month, and other bills such as health care, you’ll be lucky if you make it through the month.
I do not understand, are they employees of the airline or the airport? The article makes it seem like Alaska Air is treating them badly, but then says that employees hired by the airline are treated better.
They are employees of McGee Air Service, a subsidiary of Alaska Air Group.
You could also get another job !
I hope this story gains traction. Thank you for reporting. I will boycott Alaska Airlines until these conditions improve.
I see these articles and always wonder. Why don’t they quit and find a better job that fits their needs. We are in a free country that allows for that. Educate yourself. Get trained in a new skill. We control our lives. Not our employers. We have an off switch as employees use it. There are plenty of great jobs for those who want to apply themselves.
Wow, are there?! Where else can these ramp workers work? Please detail it for us since you know so much about it. I’m sure it never occurred to these struggling workers to look for a job elsewhere. 🙄
Yeah, Vaughn, he should just one of those better jobs like doctor or plumber or ditch digger. What a crybaby!
My son knew this could lead to losing his job but also knew that something has to be done for everyone’s safety, including the passengers. I couldn’t be more proud of him because he forgot about his own security for the safety of other, a real hero in my book.
I know what the job requires. Security clearance, honesty, alertness, intelligence, good balance, strength, dexterity, speed. Often lifting or repositioning heavy, large and unbalanced items while twisting or walking. Injuries are common. Ramp workers deserve higher pay. Thanks to Mission Local for posting this.
Good old sorry pathetic company greed these deplorable work conditions its like putting a broom stick up the defenseless employees butt
It’s 2021 and just finishing up pride month. No need for homophobic references . The LGTBQ community is not your punching bag . Love TRUMPS hate.
I do the exact same job in a different state and only make $13 an hour. The job doesn’t take a rocket scientist and it’s not THAT hard. This dude is complaining about being employed and make $19 an hr? Puh leeze. Get over yourself bro. Don’t like it? Find a better job someplace else. This is why people complain about “entitlement”.
I would love to make more money for what I do, but I also know that if it’s a problem then I’m always welcome to find a job elsewhere.
Come on now yes it may be $13 buck but do you have to cross two bridges equaling $12 bucks a day and most people that work at the airport live 24-30 miles away you can’t afford to live near sfo a one bedroom apartment is 3200 .
Plenty of 1br and studios in Redwood City under 2k a month currently on Craiglist…
Excuse, how is this anti-LGBTQ, Ricardo?
I’m not sure who will see this, but the German airlines Lufthansa is denying people from immigrating to the United States with legal Green Cards and permament residence status. They turned my mother-in-law away twice from boarding a plane to the U.S. The world should know that this airlines is anti-migration.
Uh huh. And what was the result of your mother-in-law’s COVID test?
The airlines don’t just turn down business because they have some “anti-migration” principle – if they’re denying boarding to a passenger, it’s invariably because they’re foreseeing some big problem with the passenger’s ability to clear the destination country’s rules for entry.