(NewsNation) — Employees at some of the biggest airports across the country are going on strike over staffing levels and pay.
In Los Angeles, Chicago and more than a dozen other airports, thousands of United and Southwest airline workers are in uniform — but spending their time off-duty protesting conditions when they’re on.
“We are … looking for protection from long, brutal duty days, over 20 hours, being stuck in airports, sleeping on the floors,” Southwest flight attendant Mark Torrez said.
At San Francisco International Airport, 1,000 food workers are on strike, which has shut down all restaurants and lounges.
Unionized food service employees say they earn about $17 an hour and have been working without a contract since 2019.
“We’re shutting this place down and I think that the employers at the airport, the restaurant employers, are going to realize very quickly they cannot run this operation without their workers,” Union President Anand Singh said.
According to some labor experts, staffing issues reflect the problematic COVID-19 pandemic bounceback by airlines. These issues have lead to flight cancellations, delays — and bad behavior by passengers.
“Unfortunately, the airline workers are on the frontline, they are the ones that are the receivers of the anger, the frustration and some overt hostility on the part of travelers,” said Kent Wong, director of the University of California Los Angeles’ Labor Center.
Labor shortages continue to plague many industries. According to the Washington Post, the air transportation industry is still seeing a shortfall of 54,000 workers.
“In general, what we’re seeing is not enough workers are willing to take the jobs that are on offer under the terms and conditions that are being offered to them,” Erin Hatton, a sociology professor from the University of Buffalo, said.
In statements to NewsNation, both United and Southwest expressed a focus on addressing concerns and new hiring.
A spokesperson for Southwest told the Washington Post that the airline encourages employees to express their opinions.
“Informational picketing is common during contract negotiations, and we do not anticipate any disruption in service resulting from the demonstration planned by off-duty flight attendants,” the spokesperson said.