It’s no secret that airlines and airports have been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic – during the early days of the pandemic, overall travel volume plummeted, and once vaccines were made travel safe, videos of unruly passengers abusing gate agents and flight attendants quickly surfaced. We’ve all heard of those horror stories or seen one of those viral videos, but there’s one group whose stories have largely gone unreported: service workers who keep things running, clean and the security of our airports.
These essential workers – such as porters, cleaners and food service providers – have been on the front lines of the pandemic, risking their health and safety, while grappling with mass layoffs, reduced hours and unpaid wages. and inadequate health care. advantages.
These workers deserve better pay, better benefits and better worker protections.
In 2013, Sea-Tac airport workers were instrumental in raising the minimum wage at Sea-Tac to $15, the first municipality in the nation to do so. But a lot has changed since 2013, especially here in the Puget Sound area. Housing costs have skyrocketed, making it increasingly difficult for hard-working Washingtonians to pay rent or buy a home. From 2011 to 2021, residential house prices increase 249% in King County and 258% in Pierce County. People in our communities, like the airport service workers at Sea-Tac, need increased pay and expanded benefits to keep up.
Housing affordability is a crisis, and we need to treat it as such. This requires action at the federal level, such as passing legislation that provides historic investments for assisted housing, social housing, and federal housing programs. But we also need to pressure big business to pay their workforce fairly, so workers can do more than barely get by, living on paycheck after paycheck. Hardworking Americans should be able to meet their basic needs like housing, health care, and education, plain and simple.
This is where the power of unionization comes in.
Growing up, my father, a unionized baggage handler at Sea-Tac Airport, took me to union meetings where I learned the power of togetherness and collective bargaining. These same principles are what allowed the folks at Sea-Tac Airport to successfully earn the $15 minimum wage in the surrounding area. As the son of a union member, I know firsthand how important strong unions are to workers and their families. This is why I will always defend the right to unionize and bargain collectively. It is also why I have worked hard to help unions in our region achieve their goals for their workers and why I will continue to do so.
To this end, I recently endorsed the Good Jobs for Good Airports Act, introduced by Senator Edward J. Markey and Rep. Jesús G. “Chuy” García, a bill endorsed by SEIU Local 6, a union local made up of workers in Washington state that includes airport workers from Sea-Tac. This bill would put in place safeguards to help ensure that airport workers receive the pay and benefits they deserve.
A few decades ago, a baggage handler at Sea-Tac airport, like my father, was earning a decent wage that enabled him to buy a house in the area. Today, wages and housing prices make this almost impossible. This must change. The Good Jobs for Good Airports Act would require airport service workers to receive prevailing wages and benefits as set by the Department of Labor. Every airport employee contributes to the smooth running of our airports and they all deserve good pay and benefits.
As travel increases and airlines return to normal operations, airports across the country are returning to pre-pandemic traffic levels. But as the rest of our airline system moves forward, we cannot let airport workers fall back to the same poor wages, benefits and working conditions.
The past few years have exacerbated and exposed the unfair wages and benefits airport workers receive. That’s why I approved the Good Jobs for Good Airports Act, and that’s why I will continue my work in Congress to protect and expand workers’ rights in the 9th District and across the country.
Congressman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) represents Washington’s 9th congressional district, serving parts of King and Pierce counties, including Seattle, Bellevue, and Tacoma. As a senior member of the House Democratic leadership, Congressman Smith also serves as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.