Airport Service Workers Campaign for Better Conditions

As travel rebounds after the pandemic, people who clean planes, move bags, and more are trying to build support for federal legislation.

Airport service workers conducted a day of action on December 8, at 15 major airports trying to gain support for legislation that would set minimum wages and workplace conditions. 

Rallies, marches and other public activities were planned at airports that collectively control 45% of all U.S. domestic air travel and 65% of all U.S. travel through major hubs.

Workers who clean planes, handle baggage, handle security and janitorial services and assist wheelchair passengers are calling on Congress to pass the Good Jobs for Good Airports Act, which was introduced by Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) over the summer, and which requires any airport that receives federal project grants to pay their service workers a minimum of $15, or must match the area’s prevailing wage and stronger benefits. 

“Airport service workers are vital to keeping our world connected, our airports running, and passengers safe,” said Mary Kay Henry, President of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in a statement. “Congress must back their demands and pass the Good Jobs for Good Airports Act, ensuring every airport worker across race, background and ZIP code can build a brighter future for their family,” 

Pakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty

The move comes as the airline industry has been increasingly affected by worker shortages.

Many pilots either took buyouts or retired early during the pandemic, and the industry has struggled to recruit and train a new generation of pilots. This had led to a marked increase in flight delays and cancellations, and a corresponding increase in frustrated, irate (and sometimes violent) customers, which has made life difficult for airline attendants and other people employed by the industry.

Companies like American Airlines are working to solve the pilot shortage, even as the CEO admits the industry won’t return to pre-pandemic levels until late next year. Earlier this year, Southwest employees began holding public rallies to draw attention to their claim that the new management is undermining the company’s reputation for first-class customer service by paying themselves bonuses instead of investing in employees.

This has been an eventful few weeks for worker demonstrations, as President Joe Biden recently signed a bill preventing a railroad strike, while members of the New York Times union held a one-day strike on the same day as the airport workers.

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