Over 1000 Black & Latino SEIU Airport Workers Plan to Strike at United & American Airlines' Largest Hubs

From SEIU Over a thousand baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, wheelchair attendants, and skycaps are ready to strike at Philadelphia International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport, LaGuardia International Airport, JFK International Airport, and Denver International Airport and could walk off their jobs any day this week. These contracted airport workers are protesting their employers' refusal to bargain a fair contract and unfair labor practices, including threats, intimidation and retaliation when they tried to join together to win higher pay by exercising their freedom to form a union. 

"Despite winning our union by a landslide, the airline contractors are refusing to bargain with us," says Rachel Sirleaf, a cabin cleaner with American Airlines contractor Prospect Air Services at Philadelphia International Airport. "The contractors should respect our right to a union so we are better able to provide for our families." 

Last year, Philadelphia airport workers made international headlines after staging a massive protest and work stoppage ahead of the DNC taking place in Philadelphia. The turbulence at the airport prompted Philadelphia Mayor Kenney and Pennsylvania Governor Wolf to step in and call on American Airlines to demand better practices from its contractors. 

Despite anti-union bullying and intimidation from PrimeFlight and Prospect, Philadelphia airport workers prevailed this spring when they voted overwhelmingly to join their union, 32BJ SEIU. Yet months later, American Airlines' contractors, PrimeFlight and Prospect—emboldened by President Trump—are erecting yet another hurdle for the airport workers by refusing to bargain a contract. Their refusal to bargain a contract has been encouraged by American Airlines, whose CEO, Doug Parker recently stated that they are waiting for the labor board to change under President Trump so that the contracted airport workers will be stripped of their union rights.  

"The American people need good jobs, and that means having the opportunity to join together in a union. There are thousands of jobs right here at our nation's airports that can and should be good union jobs that allow working people to raise their families and save for the future--like they used to be," says Mary Kay Henry, President of SEIU. "It's time major airlines support good pay and the opportunity to form a union instead of fighting working people every step of the way."

As the Trump administration enacts what many are calling the most business-friendly, anti-worker agenda in a century, Mayors from coast to coast are looking to the nation's airports to enact policies that create good jobs and thwart attempts at the federal level to undermine progress for working people. Mayors have launched a drive to urge American's major airlines to respect workers' freedom to join together in a union, arguing that giving workers a voice on the job would help reverse the decades-long race to the bottom at our nation's airports that has pushed down wages and increased income inequality. At the annual gathering of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the group of elected leaders adopted a resolution urging airlines to "ensure that contracted airport workers are paid a living wage with benefits and freedom to form a union." The resolution followed a town-hall style meeting, where mayors heard from airport workers about how they struggle to get by despite working hard to keep the country moving, and airlines bottom lines healthy. 

Jobs at our nation's airports are a striking example of how working-class Americans have lost ground in the modern economy. Four decades ago, most jobs in an airport were good, family-sustaining jobs. Companies paid a living wage, provided pensions and health care and respected Americans' right to stick together in a union. 

Today, thanks to a low-road contracting system, most Americans who work at airports are employed by subcontractors that pay low wages, without any benefits and actively suppress workers' right to form unions. Between 2002 and 2012 outsourcing by airlines of baggage porter jobs more than tripled, from 25 percent to 84 percent. Contracted airport workers – the majority of whom are immigrants and people of color – are now paid so little that four in ten go hungry or skip meals. 

Yet a new report from the Economic Roundtable shows that raising the wage floor in our nation's airports could generate $20 billion in new economic activity, and create 25,000 new jobs in our communities.

That's why contracted airport workers in the nationwide Fight for $15 movement are transforming airports into a major part of the labor movement's revival. In November, workers at Chicago O'Hare International Airport and Logan International airport joined fast-food workers across the country in a nation-wide strike for $15/hour and union rights. In December, more than 8,000 New York and New Jersey airport workers won their first union contract ever. And in April, more than 1,400 airport workers at Philadelphia International Airport joined SEIU 32BJ following an overwhelming vote in support of coming together in a union. In June, airport workers at Boston Logan and Miami International Airports went on strike, further demonstrating the importance of collective action and union rights to achieve results. 

Contracted airport workers around the country are coming together in Airport Workers United, a movement of employees and their supporters raising their voices for $15 an hour and union rights to make our airports safe and secure for passengers, employees and our communities. By sticking together, speaking out, and going on strike, airport workers have won wage increases in Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, Newark, Minneapolis, Boston, Philadelphia, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami. Since our movement began, 22,000 workers have joined SEIU and more than 110,000 have received wage increases or other improvements, including healthcare, paid sick leave and worker retention policies.