Arlington, VA – Service workers at Ronald Reagan National Airport have filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board against airline contractors, Eulen America and Airport Terminal Services (ATS). Among many other charges, Eulen is accused of allegedly interrogating workers about constitutionally protected activities. ATS is alleged to have threatened to terminate employees for engaging in constitutionally protected activities, among other charges.
“It’s unacceptable for companies to act above the law and make life difficult for low-wage workers likeTsedale Dawit, who keep travelers safe and our airport running smooth,” said Jaime Contreras, an 32BJ SEIU Vice President.
Like many other workers at DCA, Dawit is originally from Ethiopia, where she was a published poet. Now, Dawit earns just $8/hr as a checkpoint agent working for Eulen and lives with some of her children, while others remain in Ethiopia.
“When I moved here, I dreamed of going to school, but now I am trapped with no way to save up,” said Daniel Okala, an ATS cabin cleaner who came to the U.S. from Cameroon two years ago to join his mother who moved a decade ago.
Okala works the overnight shift 35 hours per week, taking home just $300 dollars per week. He spends nearly $10 each way on public transportation and $500 dollars per month on rent, while trying his best to support his mom with the other bills.
Last week, airport workers, led by longtime activist and pastor of Plymouth United Congregational Church, Rev. Graylan Hagler, held a “worker pray-in” at the airport, imploring Pope Francis to recognize the thousands of workers who struggle to get by in the Washington region.
The group also delivered palm cards quoting the Pope’s messages around poverty and a petition urging contractors to improve their working conditions. The workers, many who have families and juggle multiple jobs and at the airport earn as little as $6.75-8/hr, are seeking a living wage, improved training and adequate resources.
Their palm cards read: “For the past three years airport workers around the country have been standing up and organizing for just working conditions, fair pay and benefits. As DCA workers continue to fight for their rights, Pope Francis’, the People’s Pope, calls on, and inspires us to help the downtrodden and do what is right and just.”
These are the men and women who work for airline contractors and are critical to keeping DCA running smoothly. They’re baggage handlers, sky caps, wheelchair attendants, cabin cleaners, ramp workers, passenger assistance representatives, check-point screeners, fuelers, and security officers. Airline-contracted airport service workers are excluded from the airport’s living wage law and are overwhelmingly African and Latino immigrants and African-Americans.
With more than 145,000 members in 11 states, including 17,000 in the D.C. Metropolitan Area, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.