Philadelphia, PA— Over 500 non-union contracted wheelchair attendants, baggage handlers and airplane cleaners went on strike Thursday morning to protest low wages and unfair labor practices committed by their employers, Prospect Aviation Services and PrimeFlight Airline Services. Both contractors are employed by US Airways and other airlines.
“I’m here today because I struggle to pay my rent; every month I have to figure out which bill to pay first,” said Tara Russell, a PrimeFlight baggage handler who has been working at PHL for six years and was on strike today. “On top of that, I have unpaid student loans which I cannot pay and also support my son. Sometimes I have no money for food. This is not right. I’m here to day to stand up for myself, for my son, and for what’s right.”
“The people of Philadelphia supported an increase for workers at the airport last May. That was nearly a year ago,” said Gabe Morgan, Vice President of 32BJ SEIU. “These hard working men and women cannot wait a minute longer. These are mothers and fathers with families. These are our neighbors. And in their righteous fight they have been illegally threatened for speaking out about their working conditions and have still yet to see a penny of that increase. They are right to demand this long overdue wage increase, along with better treatment and a voice on the job.”
For over two years, these airport workers have been organizing for higher wages and better treatment on the job. Last May, Philadelphians voted affirmatively to extend the City’s living wage law (then $10.88/hour) to cover subcontractor employees at City-owned facilities like the Philadelphia airport. Last year, Mayor Nutter also issued an executive order implementing an even higher wage rate for these workers. Despite these actions taken by voters, elected officials, and Mayor Nutter himself, contractors have done little in response and workers are still waiting for a decent wage.
“The men and women who get up and go to work every day at our airport to support their families should not have to live below the poverty line, and yet, when we don’t pay them a living wage, that’s essentially what we’re forcing them to do,” said Councilman Kenyatta Johnson (D-2nd). “That’s why I’m leading the fight in city council to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour, and it’s why I am proud to stand with these workers today. I support them in their fight for fair wages and respect on the job and they know I have their back. Airports should help build our economy and support Philadelphians and we need to all work together to make that a reality.”
The airport brings more than $14 billion in economic activity to the area, but many of the workers there do not reap the benefits. To cut costs, airlines like Philadelphia’s largest carrier, U.S. Airways, outsource passenger service jobs to low-bid contractors. This low-bid system leaves the sky caps, cabin cleaners, wheelchair attendants, and baggage handlers who keep the airport running earning as little as $7.25 an hour, without access to affordable health benefits or sick days.
“I need this raise so that I can save for my own place, so I can have a car. The basic things in life,” said Michael Calloway, a Prospect cabin cleaner. “Right now I live with my grandmother and pay the rent there. I know I can be more. I feel robbed because I haven’t seen my wages increase, despite the living wage law and Mayor Nutter’s executive action.”
“We are trying to raise the standards for companies doing business at our airport and with the city,” said Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez (D-7th). “We need a shared prosperity plan, so we can lift hardworking men and women out of poverty.”
“These contractors continue to kick people when they’re down simply because they don’t want to pay a fair wage. Not receiving the increase in wages that were approved by voters almost a year ago is a slap in the face to these workers that continue to show up on the job, day in and day out, simply wanting to provide for their families. They should do the right thing, right now!” said City Councilman-at-Large W. Wilson Goode, Jr.
With 145,000 members in eleven states and Washington, D.C., including 22,000 in Pennsylvania, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.