PDX maintenance workers “Sit Down! Fight Back!”

Portland, Oregon

 “We won’t stand for it!” 

Portland Airport (PDX) wheelchair attendants, baggage and service workers, cabin cleaners and janitors held a militant picket and sit-down protest June 28 on the United Airlines departures roadway. PDX maintenance workers are fighting for the right to sit down between tasks on the job. They are demanding respect, the right to a union at United, health insurance and more. 

Portland, Oregon airport workers hold sit-down protest, demanding the right to sit down at work, June 28, 2023. WW Photo: Lyn Neeley

A Passenger Service Agent told demonstrators: “Our jobs involve hard physical repetitive labor that puts us at risk of workplace injuries. We are also at risk of contagious diseases. Our public health care is insufficient, and workers comp is so complicated, we need a lawyer to use it.” 

At the same protest, Service Employees Union (SEIU) Local 49 kicked off its fight for a new contract for unionized workers at Portland’s airport. Supporters included members of Teamsters Local 49, the Teamsters, Jobs with Justice and Workers World Party.

Many other workers around the country are fighting for the right to sit down at work, according to an article in The Guardian. Business owners and bosses mistakenly think taking chairs away from workers will increase worker productivity. Zay, a worker quoted in the same article said from her perspective workers are in pain from standing all day and that makes them much less productive stating, “The irrationality of it is so astounding.” (June 28, 2023)

However, “according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is ample evidence documenting the negative health effects of standing too long at work. Some of it is obvious: fatigue, lower back pain, tiredness and swollen legs. But there are also long-term risks associated with being on one’s feet for too long; it increases the risk of cardiovascular problems and adverse pregnancy outcomes.” (tinyurl.com/a7nat8ux)

“I think it’s a very classist thing,” said a worker featured in the article. “No one would dare criticize a lawyer for sitting on the job. But in retail or the service industry, when the job is deemed to be unskilled labor, people get irrationally offended when they see you sitting.” 

In 2018, 100,000 California cashiers won a class-action lawsuit against Walmart for failing to provide them with sit-down breaks. Workers successfully sued Bank of America for $15 million and Safeway for $12 million, for denying them access to chairs on their rest periods. New York state was forced to pass a law requiring employers to provide “suitable seats” to all workers.

This is an important struggle of workers against the capitalists, who want to deny the most basic right to safe working conditions.

Lyn Neeley

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Lyn Neeley

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