It’s around noon at the Marriott Hotel next to Dulles International Airport (IAD). Bus after bus pulls in front of the ballroom and rapidly gets filled. Hundreds of workers; Black, brown, white; immigrants and native-born; union members and soon-to-be members who work for airline services contractor Huntleigh USA are mad as hell and ready to let the irresponsible contractor and the airlines that tolerate it know that we are committed to standing by what’s fair.
Three immigrant women, from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and Sierra Leone with families to take care of have been unjustly fired by Huntleigh. Two worked as wheelchair agents and one as a customer service agent, all three are vital to keeping the airport run. Although many passengers are unaware that wheelchair agents rely on tips, their jobs are in fact classified as tipped positions. Supervisors fired the wheelchair agents for allegedly soliciting tips, an absurd response that can have dire consequences for vulnerable, low-wage workers.
However, SEIU members are fighting back, just as we always have and will always do. We are committed to getting Isata, Manju, and Asnakech back their jobs. And we are not alone in this fight for justice. United Food and Commerce Workers (UFCW) and UNITE HERE members joined in solidarity. Religious leaders leading the Poor People’s Campaign have our backs. Immigrant rights’ groups such as Casa de Maryland are all in defending immigrant workers’ dignity. Delegates Kerrie Delaney (D-67) and Lee Carter (D-50), recently elected to the Virginia Legislature, made clear their support for workers and good union jobs for all.
When the rally approached IAD terminal 1, passengers’ phones turned to the hundreds of protesters carrying big posters of the retaliated workers. A quick search on social media would provide an endless stream of videos featuring our chants and demand for justice. Maybe Huntleigh didn’t want to listen to us, but the whole airport heard us.
And our demands will continue resonating in the airport by hundreds of working people in a myriad of accents until all airport workers are treated with the dignity working people deserve; starting with re-hiring Isata, Manju, and Asnakech!