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Growing strike action among U.S. airline workers against low wages and appalling working conditions


Across the country, a growing number of airport workers are striking or pushing strike action to oppose low wages, continuing safety concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and minimal staff levels. The struggles, led by airport concierges, catering workers, disabled assistants and flight attendants, are part of a struggle waged by broad layers of the working class internationally.

Denver International Airport (Wikimedia)

Airport workers are on the front lines of a fight not only against miserable wages and poor working conditions, but against the spread of the coronavirus pandemic across regions and national borders, which has been significantly worsened by the premature rush of businesses and governments at national and local level to reopen public places.

U.S. airlines received more than $ 74 billion in bailouts from the U.S. government during the pandemic. Airline inventories have skyrocketed after hearing last month’s announcement by the Biden administration that it was relaxing health restrictions on international travel, opening travel within the country to all fully vaccinated foreign visitors. “The full reopening of international travel is… essential to reviving economies around the world,” said Nicholas Calio, chairman of lobbying group Airlines for America, in response to the White House decision.

Airport workers are under pressure to work not only from management and government, but also from unions. While a number of workplace actions have taken place, unions have provided crucial support for reopening the U.S. economy during the holiday season, despite a growing winter spike in cases.

On Saturday, more than 350 janitors representing the security guard at Flagship Facility Services called a day-long strike at Denver International Airport after months of negotiations between Local 105 of the Service Employees International Union and the direction.

Luis Gonzalez, a striking airport worker, told Denver affiliate ABC News that workers were primarily concerned about “fair wages and workloads … [We keep] this place running. We risk ourselves every day and we deserve to be able to put food on the table for the holidays. “

According to the job site Indeed, Flagship Facility Service janitors earn an average of $ 12.72 per hour. A review of a company-offered janitor position in Salt Lake City, Utah, awards the position one out of five stars. “Nepotism is the way they distribute tasks”, explains the critic, adding that “managers are lazy and are the biggest hypocrites”. A Spanish-speaking reviewer also gave a job in San Diego, California a star. Referring to a question about the benefits of the job, the examiner responds “ninguna” (“none”).

The strike in Denver was halted by Local 105 after announcing a tentative deal it said was a “major achievement” in terms of wages and workloads, according to the local president.

It is not so. The deal includes a paltry $ 4 pay rise over three years, as well as commitments to increase staff and time off. While Local 105 President Ron Ruggiero has touted the deal as ending “40 years of wage stagnation,” the average gatekeeper wage will still be just over $ 16 an hour. That will equate to $ 33,536 in annual salary for a full-time worker, less than half the average salary of $ 72,000 in Denver, Colorado, according to Payscale.com .

Workers at other facilities are pushing for action against the airport industry in the days leading up to the holiday season. Wheelchair helpers at Orlando International Airport on Thursday protested understaffing, lack of sick pay and wages of just $ 8 an hour. The workers are employed by BAGS, Inc., a contractor working with both Frontier and American Airlines.

Workers at Tampa International Airport also protested the appalling conditions last week. “I help elderly and disabled passengers every day and yet I only get paid $ 7 an hour. What if I don’t tip enough to get dinner on the table? »Said Addis Abebe in Tampa SCS local branch. The protests in Tampa and Orlando were both called by the SEIU.

According to CBSNews, “Airlines rely on airport contractors to provide key services such as baggage handlers, wheelchair attendants and other positions. Workers say competitive bidding has led to falling wages and disappearing benefits. “

Employees at the food court at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, Ariz., Organized by Unite Here Local 11, launched a weeklong strike on Monday, which is expected to last throughout the Thanksgiving holiday.

The strike is against understaffing, low wages and health insurance coverage at concessionaire operator HMSHost. Workers carried out a similar work stoppage in September. At that time, workers protested against low staffing levels which have “been a continual problem in recent months,” says AZCentral. “Passenger traffic and therefore demand for concessions have sharply returned to levels almost pre-pandemic, but airport concessionaires have struggled to fill positions to meet this demand,” the publication said.

Last month, 350 flight attendants voted 100% to authorize a strike against Piedmont Airlines, a subsidiary of American Airlines, which operates 400 flights a day on the East Coast under the American Eagle brand. Piedmont flight attendants receive a base salary of almost half ($ 16,500) of the normal amount of workers in the industry.

Last Thursday, the AFA-CWA held an hour-long protest outside Charlotte International Airport in North Carolina. Despite the immense influence these workers have and the ability to link their struggles with others in the industry, the AFA-CWA continues to keep flight attendants at work while the union conducts negotiations with Piedmont, calling for no action to be taken that would harm vacation travel. Piedmont flight attendants haven’t had a new contract for three years.


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Mary Cashion

The author Mary Cashion