WASHINGTON, Nov. 24, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Terminal cleaners, cabin cleaners, skycaps, wheelchair agents, customer service agents, terminal security officers, ramp workers and baggage handlers who will care for the estimated 25 million passengers traveling this year for Thanksgiving are embarking on a 24-hour fast beginning Tuesday, Nov. 24.
At a time when most Americans celebrate and are grateful for bounty, the men and women who keep our airports running are fasting for $15 and union rights to draw attention to the fact that airport workers often go hungry because they are paid so little they can't make ends meet. Those fasting are also shining the spotlight on the intimidation, harassment and retaliation tactics these workers encounter from their employers when they attempt to form unions to improve their livelihoods.
"On an average day, I move nearly 21,000 pounds worth of bags and I am proud of the work I do every day to make sure passengers can get to their loved ones but I only make about $8 an hour," said Tranden Baccus, 33, who works two full-time baggage-handler jobs at Reagan National for airline contractors Eulen America and PrimeFlight. "We are fasting for a good cause. I believe in $15 and union rights and that's what we need so we can care for our families and make sure the passengers are cared for the right way."
Thirty-seven percent of cleaning and baggage workers live in or near the poverty level, according to a University of California–Berkeley Labor Center report detailing the stunning rise of poverty jobs at our airports.
The fast comes days after thousands of contract airport workers at the seven busiest U.S. hubs went on strike to improve conditions. Elected officials along with community and clergy leaders joined the picket lines and lent their support, outraged at the sweatshop-like conditions and poverty wages all too common at our nation's airports.
"When someone works as hard as these workers, they deserve a livable wage that can support their families, decent benefits and the ability to represent themselves," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Airport jobs used to be good jobs but the airline industry is driving down wages and quality of service by outsourcing jobs often to irresponsible contractors. This low-road business model has resulted in a system where bottom-feeder contractors have taken over the market, and intimidation and harassment are now routine for these hardworking men and women who play a critical role in keeping passengers safe.
"I provide much-needed assistance to disabled and elderly passengers to ensure they get on and off their flights safely," said Karla Sanchez, who has worked as a wheelchair attendant for airline contractor Aviation Safeguards at Los Angeles International for the past nine years. "Customers expect to get off their flights and receive good customer service but it's hard for us to provide it because we are always understaffed. In some instances four or five of us are expected to tend to 25 wheelchairs. I am fasting to demand that Aviation Safeguards respect our right to have our union."
In a survey of 500 subcontracted passenger services workers at John F. Kennedy International, LaGuardia, and Newark Liberty International airports conducted in September 2014, the Economic Policy Institute found that 50 percent of airport employees in the region rely on some form of public assistance to survive while 1 in 5 workers report they skipped a meal within the past week because of financial reasons.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wrote a letter to the workers last month, expressing her support for their efforts. "I'm proud to support you in calling for safe working conditions, decent benefits, and fair wages for every airport worker in the country. Airport jobs should be good jobs and together, we can make sure they are."
Personnel in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Denver, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston, Newark, N.J., Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Washington, D.C., Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, are participating in the fast.
Across the country, contracted airport staff are coming together through Airport Workers United, a movement of employees and their allies, raising their voices for $15 and union rights to make our airports safe and secure for passengers, staff and our communities. By sticking together, speaking out for change, and protesting, they have won wage increases in Los Angeles, New York City, Newark, N.J., Minneapolis, Boston, Philadelphia, and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Now, more than 53,000 of these workers nationwide have either received wage increases or other improvements, including healthcare, paid sick leave and worker retention policies.
"I'm a single mother supporting a teenage son and a sick mother," said Sharon Cruz Holguin, a line queue officer at Chicago's O'Hare International. "I am paid minimum wage and we can't live on these low wages."
Support and momentum are growing for workers with more and more leaders are joining the fight. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), Rep. Bob Brady (D-Pa.), Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, and Philadelphia Mayor-elect Jim Kenney and others have expressed support for the workers.