Airport workers step up pressure for living wages and union rights | american unions
Larry Allen has held various positions at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport for over 40 years.
Before the pandemic, Allen worked as a porter, earning just over $2 an hour and relying on tips to get by. When Covid-19 hit the United States, Allen was ordered not to return to work and was not called back until a year later when he took a job as a wheelchair officer.
He now earns just $8 an hour plus tips, but those tips aren’t guaranteed and can vary widely, and he relies on Social Security and Medicare benefits. In his late 60s, Allen commutes a few miles each day to work, and at his age worries about the physical cost of working at the airport have taken a toll on his body and his ability to eventually retire comfortably.
He is pushing to organize a union among his colleagues at the airport to improve wages, benefits and working conditions.
“We need more money and more respect for the work we do. Eight bucks an hour just isn’t enough,” Allen said. “A union is a benefit, to get proper pay and insurance, so if you get sick you’ll have medical coverage, and if something happens you’ll have someone to represent you and support you.”
Allen is one of many airport workers in the United States who have participated in protest actions last month to pressure local, state and federal government officials, as well as the CEOs of major airlines, including United, Delta and American Airlines, to sign a Commitment to good airportspledging to ensure that airport workers receive a living wage, enjoy affordable health care and have the right to organize a union.
The actions were part of a campaign by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) for airport workers to bargain through a union to improve wages, working conditions, health care and sick leave.
Contract workers, including baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, security guards, wheelchair attendants and maintenance staff participated in actions at United Airlines and American Airlines headquarters and airports in Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Miami, Houston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Minneapolis, Orlando, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Washington DC, Portland, Newark, Chicago. and Denver. New organizing efforts have been launched in Phoenix, Dallas and Charlotte.
“I only get paid $12 an hour. I work a lot of hours and some days I work so late that I just sleep at the airport. I can’t afford to buy a car, rent it and send money to my family in Sudan,” said Omer Hussein, a wheelchair attendant serving American Airlines at Dallas International Airport. Fort Worth, in a stock press release. “I like working with passengers, but I’m so tired all the time. It won’t fly anymore.
Airline contractors have reported difficulties in staffing positions as demand for air travel continued to improve to pre-pandemic levels. Airlines have increasingly outsourced labor to contractors over the past decades, who often pay workers low wages with little or no benefits.
The SEIU cited Data on the demographics of airport contract workers in the United States, revealing that 64% are people of color and are paid 42% less on average than their white peers in the airline industry.
Mary Kay Henry, president of the SEIU, said workers are speaking out to hold airlines accountable because they are paid from the profits of those companies through contractors. She characterized the actions as part of a historic uprising by workers across the United States demanding a voice at work through a union and to be respected, protected and paid what they are worth.
“They are speaking up to say they are tired of the status quo because why should a Chicago worker dropping off a passenger in a wheelchair be paid $18 an hour while the Dallas worker picking him up when he arrives earns paid only $8 an hour? Where your business is located or the work you do should not determine whether you provide for your family and can take care of yourself when you are sick or whether you have a voice at work,” said declared Henry. “Big airlines can change the system of those jobs that used to be middle-class jobs with benefits that people could raise their families on.”