Arlington, VA –At the Dulles Airport Job Fair on Wednesday, contracted airport workers wearing shirts that read “Jobs with no benefits, are you sick?” peppered Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority reps with questions about why they don’t receive the same benefits as MWAA employees. As National Airport ranks #3 among U.S. airports and #8 worldwide with the most summer cancellations, contracted workers report that they believe they are understaffed and that they think lack of paid sick leave and employer-paid health care is behind the shortage.
In 2018, MWAA enacted a policy that requires contractors to provide a living wage for service workers including, baggage handlers, cleaners and wheelchair agents. Likewise, MWAA also has the power to enact a policy requiring contractors to provide paid sick leave and health care benefits, which workers have been pushing for over two years.
Among questions that contracted workers asked MWAA reps:
- How do you think job applicants will respond when they find out many contractors don’t provide benefits?
- Would you take a job that didn’t offer benefits?
- Do you believe benefits would make a job more appealing or less appealing to an applicant?
In July, a prevailing wage law went into effect at Philadelphia International Airport that mandates $4.80 in healthcare benefits and a minimum of 11 days of paid holidays or time off. A dozen airports have requirements for healthcare or other supplemental benefits currently or will soon apply.
“Those who lack health insurance can’t afford to go to the hospital, often dying as a result,” said DCA skycap, Almaz Abera. “If I got hit by a car or a stray bullet, I’d tell the ambulance to take me to work, otherwise, I won’t have a job when I come back,” said Paul Blair, 71, Dulles terminal cleaner.
Because many contracted workers cannot afford their employers’ expensive health care, they often go without seeing a doctor or medicine they need to be healthy. Also, many of these workers cannot afford to miss pay when they are sick and often must come to work putting the health and safety of the traveling public at risk.
When an estimated 70 DC National Airport workers were exposed to COVID during an outbreak at a church in August of 2020, workers faced insurmountable economic pressure to come to work despite posing a risk to themselves and others.
With more than 175,000 members in 12 states, including 21,000 in the D.C. area and Baltimore, MD, 32BJ SEIU is the nation’s largest property service workers union.
32BJ represents over 2,500 contracted airport service workers at DCA, Dulles and BWI Airports.