Airport workers are hoping their calls to boost pay and improve working conditions will resonate on the busiest travel day of the year. About 200 baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, wheelchair attendants and other low-paid airport service workers nationwide are planning to hold a 24-hour fast starting on Tuesday afternoon, demanding $15 an hour and union recognition.
The protest marks the latest salvo from service workers trying to organize unions at some of the nation’s busiest airports, including in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. Last week, 2,000 workers at seven airports across the country went on strike, asking for pay raises, union recognition and an end to alleged intimidation. A couple hundred workers at 14 airports are participating in the fast, according to the Service Employees International Union. Most are fasting for a day, starting on Tuesday, but about a dozen workers in Los Angeles began theirs earlier, on Monday.
“It’s unfair that airports produce millions of dollars and extraordinary profits while [the workers] suffer hunger and misery,” says Luis Sanchez, 57, a cleaner at JFK’s Terminal 5, who is planning to fast on Tuesday. He makes $10.10 an hour, working 40 hours a week. “[Our work] is too much responsibility for the little amount of pay we receive.”
— SEIU Florida (@seiufl) November 19, 2015
Fasting workers are not employed by the airports or the airlines whose passengers they serve -- but rather by third-party contractors. Sanchez, for example, works for Roma Cleaners -- not Jet Blue, which operates most of the flights from Terminal 5, or the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the main New York City airports.
Jet Blue did not respond to a request for comment. Roma Cleaners could not be reached for comment.
The service workers’ union has sought to organize thousands of such employees nationwide, putting pressure on airlines and airports to boost pay. Some of these efforts have borne fruit: Last year, the Port Authority approved a phased-in wage hike that requires contractors to pay at least $10.10 an hour. In June, the Philadelphia City Council mandated a new airport-specific hourly minimum wage of $12 --a significant step up from the current Pennsylvania minimum rate of $7.25 an hour.
In a separate labor campaign, more than 100 Walmart workers are fasting in the run-up to the Black Friday, asking for $15 wages and full-time status.