The nationwide struggle for $15 an hour sparked a seven-airport strike by some 2,000 workers on Nov. 18, the onset of the busy holiday season. Not only are the workers demanding this living wage, but also medical insurance coverage and the right to join a union.
Cleaners, wheelchair attendants, baggage handlers and security guards at Kennedy and LaGuardia, and Newark, N.J.’s Liberty airports and those servicing Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago O’Hare and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., hit the picket lines for at least one day.
These workers are employed by subcontractor companies. Giant airline companies like JetBlue, Delta, United and American have used this tactic to boost their profits by not paying the workers directly and breaking the workers’ unions. The subcontractors are hired based on paying the workers low wages, denying them medical insurance and union membership, and dividing them from unionized airline workers like pilots and flight attendants.
Jean Trimmer, a cabin cleaner for Ultimate Aircraft at JFK, explained that he makes a meager $10.10 an hour, not enough to support his family. He also objects to not being covered by health insurance: “Safety concerns are a really big deal, and if we get injured, who’s going to pay for that? We are.” (cnn.com, Nov. 18)
The airport workers have found strong support from the Service Employees union, which has been seeking to unionize them for several years. The workers carried signs reading, “On strike over unfair labor practices!” and “Intimidation, harassment and anti-worker tactics don’t belong in airport,” according to a SEIU press statement.
Already the workers’ struggle has forced state governments to investigate the companies’ anti-worker behavior. The Massachusetts Port Authority, which oversees the Boston airport, acknowledged “it had received allegations in recent months that private firms working at the airport had violated state wage laws, discriminated against workers based on national origin and retaliated against workers seeking to unionize.” (nbcnews.com, Nov.19)
The actions by airport workers tie in directly with the nationwide struggle for $15 an hour. This movement by fast-food, department store, hotel, restaurant and many other low-paid workers has galvanized support from the entire working class. It is bound to grow strong, win victory after victory, and set a tremendous example for working people everywhere!