Exhausted US airport workers see hope in minimum wage bill as summer of travel chaos looms | Airline industry

Ana Vazquez worked for five years at Orlando International Airport in Florida as a wheelchair attendant and attendant for unaccompanied minors. She earns $12 an hour, with no paid time off, and the only health insurance coverage available to her is billed out of pocket and unaffordable on her salary.

Vazquez often does the work of two or three workers due to a chronic understaffing, which results in travelers waiting long periods for wheelchair service and attendants having to push two wheelchairs at once.

Vazquez lives with her daughter because she cannot afford her own apartment, as rent has risen dramatically across the region, while her salary has remained the same.

“We get our salary like in 1995,” Vazquez said. “I have to live with my daughter, sleep on the corner of her bed,” Vazquez said. “I’m going to set up the dressing room as a bedroom.”

On June 16, Sen. Ed Markey, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, and Rep. Chuy Garcia — all Democrats — introduced the Good Jobs for Good Airports Act, which would raise the minimum wage for U.S. airport workers, including those working for contractors, at $15 an hour. , provide paid time off and at least $4.60 an hour for health insurance.

The bill is backed by major U.S. transportation unions including the SEIU, CWA, Unite Here, Transport Workers Union (TWU), International Brotherhood of Teamsters, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) and the National Conference of Firefighters. and Oilers (NCFO).

It comes at a time when the US travel industry – particularly airlines and airports – is in deep crisis, as staff shortages following the coronavirus pandemic have resulted in thousands of flights. delayed and canceled that promised a summer of chaos for millions of American travelers.

Rob Hill, executive vice president of 32BJ SEIU and national airport organizing campaign director, said airlines and airports have relied on contractors who have lowered standards and wages for workers in a race to the bottom for the cheapest offer, which made it difficult to organize workers by one employer.

This legislation focuses on entire airports to raise standards at all levels to facilitate union organizing and stabilize the airport workforce with decent wages and benefits amid high employee turnover and labor shortages, especially as significant federal funds go to airports and the airline industry.

“With this bill, the federal government will raise the standard for potentially hundreds and thousands of airport workers, primarily workers of color,” Hill said. “If the federal government is putting money into this, it should be a benefit for the workers, it should be a benefit for the taxpayers.

Shawn Montgomery, an airplane cabin cleaner for an American Airlines contractor at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina for about a year, said he was constantly in a rush while on the job, not having often only 10 minutes to clean an entire aircraft.

Montgomery and his co-workers take out the trash and work outside in hot weather, with no time to drink a glass of water, and they often experience symptoms of heat exhaustion. Some of their break rooms do not provide cold water or air conditioning and they are not allowed to use airline break rooms.

“Our jobs, our positions and who we are, we are not valued, and that is the main reason why we try to organize. I want the conditions to be better for my current colleagues, but I also want the conditions to be better for the next group of people who arrive,” Montgomery said.

Since he started last year, only one in 10 colleagues in his training class is still on the job, due to low pay, lack of benefits and harsh working conditions.

He recently missed the graduation of two grandchildren because he has no paid vacation and couldn’t afford to lose the income. He works a second job to try to make ends meet, but struggles with the stress of trying to keep up with rising costs for rent, gas, food and other basic necessities.

“The airline industry itself has received billions and billions of dollars in aid. None of this has trickled down to the very people who are the lifeblood of these planes’ ability to leave. the ground,” Montgomery added.

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