Airport employees fight for better wages, working conditions

FILE – Transportation Security Administration agents process passengers at the south security checkpoint at Denver International Airport in Denver on June 10, 2020. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

(NewsNation) — As airports are getting busy with spring breakers, service workers, like those who make your food and keep the airport clean, are fighting for better working conditions.

Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill have reintroduced a bill for better wages and benefits such as paid sick leave.

Federal data shows passenger attendants (the people who help escort passengers with wheelchairs or other disabilities) make an average of $13.84 per hour at some airports.

Now, some are asking that service workers at all airports get a $15 an hour wage. Employees say they also want better access to health insurance, as well as paid sick days.

A crowd of workers and union members gathered on the steps of Capitol Hill on Thursday. Some of them said they have to work a second job just to get by — and there’s not a whole lot stopping them from quitting and going to work at a restaurant or business down the street that pays better.

“Sometimes we have to work 70 or 80 hours to make ends meet,” one employee, Rio Bryant, said. “Meanwhile the airports and airlines are making billions. It doesn’t make sense to me. The truth is air travel is a mess for both air passengers and workers.”

Lawmakers have introduced bills to fix this, but nothing has come of them. However, recently Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Jesús G. “Chuy” García, D-Ill., have announced they are proposing the Good Jobs for Good Airports Act, which, among other provisions, increases the pay of airport service workers.

“When many passengers stayed home at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, airport service workers showed up to work. When passengers returned by the millions last year, these workers were still there doing their jobs day in and day out. And when airlines canceled thousands of flights over the holidays, airport service workers were on-hand, doing their best to serve the passengers who had been stranded at the gate,” Markey said in a statement. “It’s time that we show up for these workers the way they do for us.”

This is good news for the president of the Service Employees International Union, which represents 36,000 airport service workers.

Mary Kay Henry, SEIU president, says she is optimistic this time around about legislation passing.

“We had senators and congresspeople tell us they fought so hard for this standard when they moved Covid relief money $60 billion to the airline sectors and that now is the time,” Henry said.

Congress must reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration’s funding this year, and the union is hoping their demands can be part of that process.

Cassie Buchman contributed to this report.


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