Thousands of workers at 15 U.S. airports rally and strike in support of better working conditions

Kirby Lee

Airport workers across the country rallied and walked off the job Thursday to draw attention to their current working conditions and legislation that could improve them.

Workers at 15 U.S. airports, including ones in Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City and Phoenix, participated in on-site rallies. Formal strikes — which typically disrupt operations — took place at Boston's Logan International Airport, Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and the Newark Liberty International Airport.

A number of airport staff, including cabin cleaners, baggage handlers, janitors, security guards, wheelchair attendants and others participated in the labor action.

“Airport workers like me and working people all across the economy are fed up,” Verna Montalvo, a cabin cleaner at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, said in a statement provided by the Service Employees International Union, which organized the action.


The rallies supported the Good Jobs for Good Airports Act, introduced in June by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. The proposal would set a minimum hourly wage of $15 for airport service workers, as well as ensure that they have paid time off, holidays, adequate health care and other benefits. It would be similar to what other federal contractors currently receive.

"Without us, no one could travel safely to visit their families over the holidays. Seeing smiles on passengers’ faces gives me a huge sense of pride, but it comes at a huge cost when I can’t support my own family on poverty wages," Montalvo said.

Workers at the Newark, O'Hare and Logan airports participated in strikes to protest what they say are unfair labor conditions alleged against their direct employer, Swissport International AG.

“With the holiday travel season upon us, it’s more important than ever that employers in Boston and nationwide pay airport workers the money they’ve rightfully earned while respecting their legally protected right to unionize,” Roxana Rivera, the executive vice president of SEIU local 32BJ, said in a statement.

In its own statement, Swissport denied any unfair labor practices were being committed. It said it fully complies with labor regulations and operating permits, and that it provides competitive wages and benefits.

This year's unprecedented air travel snarls have spilled over into the working lives of the airport staffers, who have been blamed for delays and have seen their time to clean planes shortened to just a few minutes, SEIU said in a release.

At LaGuardia International Airport in New York City, workers in charge of unloading bags from planes have also been told to work as cabin cleaners, the union said.

“We get blamed for delays, but we’re only given a few minutes to clean and don’t have enough people to do the work,” Omar Rodriquez, a ramp agent and cabin cleaner at LaGuardia, said in a statement.

“No one wants to stay because the pay and benefits are not enough for what we do."

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