Airport workers in cities across the country held rallies calling for major U.S. airlines to ensure contracted workers like them are paid a livable wage, with essential benefits like health insurance and paid time off.
On Wednesday, hundreds of airport workers — including wheelchair attendants, baggage handlers, cabin cleaners and more — protested in over 20 cities, from Dallas and Chicago to Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
The contracted workers are demanding that American Airlines, United and other major U.S. airlines sign a pledge to ensure that the companies they contract with pay fair wages to airport workers and provide affordable health insurance and benefits like paid sick days.
“I try to save some money, but I’ve got to pay rent, bills,” Omer Hussein, a wheelchair attendant at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, told HuffPost last week. He makes $12 an hour working for Prospect, a company contracted by United, American and other airlines at that Texas hub.
“Just we need some respect: more money, health insurance,” Hussein said, adding that he lives with two roommates and sends money home to Sudan. He gets no paid sick time off.
Laura Moran, a spokesperson for the SEIU — a union that represents over 30,000 workers at airports — said airlines need to “step up and take responsibility” for airport workers and require contractors to “make sure everyone from cabin cleaners to wheelchair workers have the ability to not be in poverty, to take a day off when they’re sick and have the health care they need.”
“To claim they don’t have the responsibility for these contracted workers is what we’re calling out — because they do,” Moran said of the major airlines.
A United spokesperson said the company “require[s] our vendors to comply with all federal, state and local laws” and has a “strong track record of working closely with unions.”
American Airlines did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Moran noted that in some airport hubs where contracted workers are part of a union, those unions have been able to win higher wages, paid sick leave and other basic benefits.
Hussein, who does not work in a location with a union, said he has slept at the airport overnight sometimes because he clocked out so late — at 3 or 4 a.m. — that it didn’t make sense to go all the way home — an hour on public transport — before coming back for his next shift.
He noted that many of the contracted workers at his airport in Dallas are immigrants like him.
An SEIU analysis of census data found that across the air transportation industry — including pilots, flight attendants and contracted airport workers like cabin cleaners — workers of color made between 23% and 41% less than white workers overall. Black and Latinx workers faced the biggest wage disparities.