Mar 30, 2022
Contracted airport workers--including baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, security officers, and wheelchair agents--in more than 20 U.S. cities staged coordinated demonstrations Wednesday to call for higher wages, better benefits, and the right to unionize.
"As an immigrant who spent 10 years in refugee camps, I've faced plenty of hardship in my life, but none as great as the last two years."
"Airports keep our economy and our world connected. I assist disabled, elderly, and other passengers, who need help getting through the airport to their plane," said Omer Hussein, a wheelchair attendant servicing American Airlines at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, in a statement.
"I'm only paid $12 an hour. I work a lot of hours and some days I work so late that I just sleep over at the airport," he explained. "I can't afford a car, rent, and to send money home to my family in Sudan. I like working with passengers, but I'm so tired all the time. That won't fly any longer."
Hussein added that "now, airport workers like me are fed up and taking action to demand that all airport jobs must be good, union jobs that pay enough to support our families."
Along with his workplace in Texas, workers planned protests at airports in or near Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, Newark, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, Seattle, Tampa, and Washington, D.C.
\u201cHAPPENING NOW: Airport workers in Charlotte NC are fed up with poverty wages while working for big companies servicing airlines. We\u2019re calling on airline CEOs to sign the #GoodAirports pledge for decent pay NOW! #UnionsforAll\u201d— Union of Southern Service Workers (@Union of Southern Service Workers) 1648669534
\u201cHAPPENING NOW: We're joining @seiuusww at LAX to demand #GoodAirports! \n\nThroughout the pandemic McDonald's had gone through CEOs and each one has proven to be as greedy as the last.\n\nThe pandemic has exposed the reality of corporate greed in the fast food and airline industries.\u201d— Fight for $15 LA (@Fight for $15 LA) 1648667714
"If I got hit by a car or a stray bullet, I'll tell the ambulance to take me to Dulles to work because otherwise I won't have a job when I come back," said 71-year-old Paul Blair, a terminal cleaner at Washington Dulles International Airport, in a statement.
Blair, who suffers from arthritis and heart problems, highlighted that "we sacrificed our lives working through Covid, but we still don't get benefits and must come to work sick because we can't afford to lose pay."
As part of the day of action, the workers--who are organizing with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)--ran a full-page advertisement in USA Today with a letter addressed to the CEOs of three major airlines: American, Delta, and United.
"Airports connect people worldwide and power the global economy. And it's workers like us who make it all possible," the ad says. "But we're fed up after years of working jobs where we're called essential, but treated as disposable."
The letter calls on the chief executives to sign the "Good Airports Pledge," which would mean promising to:
- Acknowledge that airlines have the ability and responsibility to end poverty-wage jobs and inequality through the system;
- Ensure the billions of public dollars airlines receive annually serve the public good, not just shareholders and executives;
- Set a minimum wage and benefit standard guaranteeing all workers are paid living wages and provided affordable, quality healthcare and paid time off;
- Respect workers' right to join together in a union; and
- Ensure contracts with airport service providers are able to meet living wage and fair benefits standards and encourage contracts to be neutral when workers organize a union.
\u201cSeattle airport workers rising up! We're making sure airline CEOs hear us and listen: End poverty wages NOW! #UnionsForAll #GoodAirports\u201d— Airport Workers United (@Airport Workers United) 1648678237
"Amid a national reckoning and wave of workers exercising their power, airport workers are building on years of organizing and asserting themselves as the newest force in the surging labor movement," declared SEIU international president Mary Kay Henry ahead of the protests. "They're standing up to airline CEOs, raising their voices to demand respect, protections, and pay that they can raise a family on."
"They're fed up with a system where Black and Brown workers make tens of thousands of dollars less than their white peers, and they're taking action," the labor leader added. "Airlines have long proven they can't be trusted to use the billions of public dollars they receive to serve the public good."
\u201cThis is worker power! In this movement, we stand together. Airport workers across the country were out today demanding good union jobs with dignity, respect and fair wages. So honored to get to be in Chicago to join them! #UnionsForAll #GoodAirports\u201d— Mary Kay Henry (@Mary Kay Henry) 1648678862
In statements about the demonstrations, some workers shared how the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has affected them.
"As an immigrant who spent 10 years in refugee camps, I've faced plenty of hardship in my life, but none as great as the last two years," said Ababuti Olok, a skycap worker and wheelchair attendant at Boston Logan International Airport who lives in Chelsea with his wife and two sons.
"I was grateful to go back to work after being in lay off for many months, but I still fell over three months behind on rent and feared my family would end up homeless. Even now, I'm still behind on my bills," he added. "I need relief so my children can stay in our home."
\u201cWe @32BJSEIU believe all airports that receive federal funding should commit to a minimum wage and benefits standard.\u201d— 32BJ SEIU /// #UnionStrong \ud83d\udcaa\ud83d\udcaa\ud83c\udffb\ud83d\udcaa\ud83c\udffd\ud83d\udcaa\ud83c\udfff (@32BJ SEIU /// #UnionStrong \ud83d\udcaa\ud83d\udcaa\ud83c\udffb\ud83d\udcaa\ud83c\udffd\ud83d\udcaa\ud83c\udfff) 1648655786
Skycap Almaz Abera, who has worked at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport for 18 years, said that "almost all of my coworkers got Covid, I'm very sad over the loss of my coworkers Ana and Brook, sometimes we cry when we talk about them."
"Those who lack health insurance can't afford to go to hospital, often dying as a result," Abera noted. "Those with healthcare make it because they can afford to go to the hospital. We have to fight the airlines for healthcare and sick leave because you can die and they won't care."
Some federal lawmakers, including Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), expressed support for the protesting workers.
\u201cProud to stand in solidarity with SEIU Local 32BJ today at DCA. Airport workers have been on the front lines during this pandemic and we must ensure they are properly protected and cared for.\u201d— Rep. Gerry Connolly (@Rep. Gerry Connolly) 1648656436
"Airport workers can be paid as little as $8/hour, while CEOs are paid on average $5,000/hour," tweeted Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. "It's time to raise the wage for workers across this country."
Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.