PHILADELPHIA- Hundreds of security workers, baggage handlers and cabin cleaners working for American’s subcontractors PrimeFlight, Prospect and McGinn who have been fighting for $15 and a union Tuesday voted to go on strike during the DNC to protest their employer’s illegal intimidation against the workers’ organizing efforts.
“It is not an easy decision to go on strike. We aren’t striking because we want to, we are striking because we have to,” said Prospect wheelchair attendant, Erickson Tarlue.
Over the last three years Philadelphia International airport workers have come together with other low wage workers in the fight for $15 and a union. When baggage handlers, security officers, cabin cleaners and wheelchair attendants working for subcontractors of American and other airlines began organizing for higher wages and benefits, their employers began to illegally threaten them and silence their voices on the job.
“We’ve tried to make our voice heard but our employers always find new ways to silence us with bullying and intimidation. It is time for us to have a union so that we can be treated with respect, have decent work schedules and benefits,” said Charles “Preach” Jones, a baggage handler with PrimeFlight.
The mostly-African American and African immigrant airport workers are employed by subcontractors who work primarily for American Airlines, but for other airlines as well. Thirty years ago airlines began subcontracting out work that used to be done by union workers. This low-bid subcontracting system has left subcontracted airport workers in poverty and resulted in high turnover and short staffing in airport jobs.
The Philadelphia DNC strike is taking place amidst record profits for the aviation industry while many airport workers continue to live in abject poverty. Last year alone the airlines raked in more than $23 billion in profits. Meanwhile, Philadelphia remains the worst city for deep poverty in America—with black Philadelphians twice as likely to live in poverty as whites.
“The airport is Philadelphia’s modern day plantation. In the poorest big city in the country, it is a moral outrage that while billions are made at the airport every year, these men and women languish in poverty. We demand that the city, subcontractors and American Airlines don’t leave these workers behind,” said Reverend Greg Holston of Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild (POWER).
POWER clergy monitored the strike vote which took place over a 24-hour period at the airport.
In the wake of last week’s racially charged violence, black community, labor and faith leaders gathered Monday for a panel form on, “Black Workers Left Behind in Philadelphia.”
“Exploiting people for cheap labor should not be an option for a prospering city—at the Philadelphia airport or in our communities,” said Derrick Johnson, NAACP National Board member. “We cannot truly address racial injustice unless we fix a deeply broken system that depends on cheap black labor.”
With the DNC fast-approaching, airport workers and their supporters are calling on the DNC to support their fight by demanding action by American Airlines. American—which controls 70% of the traffic at PHL—hires and fires contractors at the airport and sets the standards for wages, benefits and worker treatment.
“The hardworking men and women at the airport exemplify everything that the DNC platform is about. They are at the forefront of the fight to rebuild the middle class and address racial and economic disparities,” said Gabe Morgan, Vice President of 32BJ SEIU.
In Philadelphia, airport workers have gone on strike before. Their actions have resulted in several major airline contractors coming into compliance with the minimum wage law and improving working conditions and standards. Despite this progress, airline contractors repeatedly denied the airport workers’ demands for fair treatment and the wages and benefits they deserve.
Airport workers at PHL join a growing movement of airport workers across the country calling out the low-bid contracting system that continues to perpetrate similar issues around the country. With 1,000 workers potentially going on strike, it will be the largest action airport workers have taken so far.
With 155,000 members in eleven states and Washington, D.C., 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.