WASHINGTON, DC — Airport service workers joined union leaders, Senator Ed Markey (MA) and Representative Jesús “Chuy” García (IL) during a press conference on Capitol Hill on Thursday to reintroduce the Good Jobs for Good Airports Act (GJGA). During the press conference, workers organizing with SEIU, CWA and UNITE HERE shared their stories and reiterated their demands for living wages and benefits for the service workforce that helps keep our nation’s airports safe, clean and running.
Airport service workers are part of a growing movement of working people across industries, from Starbucks, to Amazon and beyond that are raising demands for unions for all and rejecting unchecked corporate power. This latest call to action comes on the heels of Wednesday’s U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing during which SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry and other labor leaders urged lawmakers to unrig our broken labor laws, empower working people and hold union-busting corporations like Starbucks to account.
“Airport service workers like me are fired up today to demand a fair shot at a good life, with fair wages and real benefits like affordable healthcare, paid leave and protections at work,” Rio Bryant, a wheelchair attendant at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, told the crowd during a live streamed press conference on Capitol Hill. “The great news is this is possible. Now, we need Congress to reject the system that is failing all of us and stand with working people by passing the Good Jobs for Good Airports Act.”
The bill reintroduction came as the House Transportation Aviation Subcommittee convened Thursday to discuss issues in the aviation industry. Major airlines like American Airlines, United and Delta have continued to raise ticket prices and cash in record profits while failing to ensure workers receive living wages and raking in billions in federal dollars meant to shore up the industry. American Airlines, the largest airline in the United States, has also fought efforts to provide airport service workers with benefits like paid sick leave or healthcare. As a result, travelers and airport service workers alike have been left to contend with an industry-wide crisis, where flight cancellations, system-wide outages and broader travel chaos have become the norm.
Fed up with the mess airlines created, workers raised their demands for Congress to stabilize our nation’s airports and support the airport service workforce by passing GJGA as part of the FAA Reauthorization budget renewal. It empowers the largely Black, brown and immigrant-led service workforce by establishing wage and benefit standards for airport service workers at major airports nationwide. Additionally, the bill would help address inequities in our air travel system by raising wages for women and people of color, who often hold the lowest paid jobs in the industry. First introduced last year, the Good Jobs for Good Airports Act is endorsed by SEIU, CWA, UNITE Here, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers and the Transportation Trades Department.
“Including the Good Jobs for Good Airports Act in FAA Reauthorization is a win-win: by turning airport service jobs into good-paying jobs with benefits, we can help stabilize the Black, brown and immigrant-powered service workforce, secure our nation’s airports and keep travelers on time,” said Mary Kay Henry, SEIU International President, before introducing Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. “Airport workers are part of a wave of workers all across the economy demanding unions for all. We’re daring our lawmakers to reimagine an economy that works for all of us – not just billionaires and corporate executives.”
“Miami International Airport is one of the largest economic centers in the state and yet my members must take extraordinary measures to support themselves,” said James McKnight, President of CWA Local 3146 during the press conference. “Passing the Good Jobs for Good Airport Act would improve wages for my members and improve their quality of life as they continue to serve on the front lines of the aviation industry.”
Throughout the press conference, Members of Congress – including U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (CT) – stood with union leaders united in their promise to ensure that airport service workers across all zip codes, races and backgrounds get the living wages and benefits they deserve. They made it clear that including GJGA is a key priority for this year’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization, a process that is already underway ahead of a fall deadline.
“The Good Jobs for Good Airports Act, which I’m proud to support, says something very simple, and that is: if major airports want access to federal funds make sure the workers are paid a damn good wage and damn good benefits. So we say yes, we want good airports, but the better you treat your workers, the safer our airports are…the better our airports are and the more effective they are,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said to a fired up crowd in front of the Capitol Building. “Workers, you are the wind beneath our wings, and we are going to stick with you through thick and thin. Let’s get this bill passed.”
Since the start of the pandemic, airport service workers have called on major airlines to step up and stabilize air travel by ensuring living wages, affordable healthcare, sick days and other important protections. Last December, workers reiterated their demands and joined forces with other workers across industries during a nationwide day of action in more than 15 cities. During protests, rallies and other public activity, workers urged Congress to call out unchecked corporate power and pass GJGA.
“In the aviation industry, every single worker keeps this industry running strong. Unfortunately… we’ve had a separate and unequal system within the airline industry – it is past time that these workers that keep the entire system running get the same wages and benefits that everybody else in the industry is able to enjoy – and this is our moment to do it,” said Greg Regan, President of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO. “This legislation ensures that we’re not just investing in fancy new airports, but that we’re investing in people. We’re proud to stand with everybody here to stand up for every single worker when they’re not getting the wages and benefits they deserve. With solidarity, we’re going to get this done.”
Workers, union leaders descend on DC with demand for unions for all
Earlier in the week, other unions, labor groups and workers from across the economy took their demands for living wages and a voice on the job to Washington D.C., as they called on elected officials to reimagine an economy that works for all of us.
On Tuesday, nearly 100 airport service workers from airports nationwide held a rally at Reagan National Airport (DCA) before storming on Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority headquarters to demand paid sick leave and employer-paid healthcare for airport service workers at DCA and Dulles Airport. Virginia lawmakers stood side-by-side with wheelchair agents, cabin cleaners and baggage handlers
from different cities across the country in a display of solidarity.
“You all do the same work as me and my coworkers in Philadelphia,” said Cashay Davis, a wheelchair coordinator at Philadelphia International Airport, addressing a crowd of DCA service workers. “But the difference is we all have healthcare and paid sick leave and you don’t.”
On Wednesday at the Capitol, union leaders also testified before the Senate HELP Committee to urge lawmakers to defend the rights of working people to organize unions free from corporate union busting. The hearing came as Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz caved under threat of subpoena to testify before the Committee, following weeks of refusal and a relentless union-busting campaign against Starbucks workers. Last week, a judge for the National Labor Relations Board issued a damning decision that found that Starbucks was affecting its workers’ organizing efforts in Buffalo through “egregious and widespread misconduct” that violated their legal rights.
During the hearing, the Committee heard from labor leaders about the illegal union-busting tactics at workplaces across the country from Starbucks, to Amazon, and other multi-billion dollar corporations. Senators on the Committee, including Senator Bernie Sanders (VT), expressed their solidarity with working people who have proven to be bedrock to the strength of our economy, including the airport service workers whose essential work has kept airports running during a deadly pandemic.
“Workers all across this country are trying to join together in unions in order to have a voice on the job, to protect themselves and to raise wages. We have slowly but surely started to organize in the midwest and along the coasts, but we need every airport in this country [to allow] workers to be able to join together,” added SEIU’s Henry, in response to a question from Senator Ed Markey. “That’s why the Good Jobs for Good Airports Act is so essential and is why we are fighting in the FAA Reauthorization to establish a standard for wages and conditions, as airlines are earning record profits after having received federal tax dollars.”