CHICAGO, May 24, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- SEIU issues the following statement:
During United Airlines' (UAL) annual shareholders meeting, contracted airport workers from the carrier's most important hubs are grilling executives on its poor track record with passengers and its contracted workforce, urging them to ensure that its outsourced ramp workers, wheelchair attendants, cabin cleaners and other passenger service workers have good-paying jobs and union rights. Hundreds of working people from O'Hare International Airport are rallying with elected leaders and community supporters outside of the meeting—with more than a dozen engaging in non-violent civil disobedience—while dozens more are speaking out at United's hubs, including Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), Denver International Airport (DEN), and Dulles International Airport (IAD).
"United has rigged the travel industry to boost their profits at the expense of working people, taxpayers and passengers," says Oliwia Pac, who works for Prospect at O'Hare International Airport. "I work hard as a wheelchair attendant who also guards jetways and helps escort unaccompanied minors, and I should be paid enough to make ends meet. We're taking our message straight to United passengers at the company's most important hubs to tell customers that we're treated just as bad as they are."
Contracted airport workers, the majority of whom are immigrants and people of color, helped create $9 billion in profit for United Airlines over the past two years. Despite their hard work, most contracted airport workers live in households paid less than $25,000 a year, qualifying them for public assistance to pay for basic necessities like food, health care and housing. This means that taxpayers— who have already provided as much as $44 billion in public support for United Airlines—are boosting the airline's bottom line yet again.
With many Americans concerned about the quality of U.S. jobs, a growing chorus of elected officials at all levels is voicing concerns about how airlines like United treats not only passengers, but also taxpayers and working people. U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) recently sent letters to airline CEOs, including United's Oscar Muñoz, urging the airline to lead among its peers and support fair wages and benefits for subcontracted airport workers. Just last week, Senator Booker joined New Jersey legislative leaders to call for legislation that would improve pay and benefits for airport workers.
In the letter, Senator Booker writes: "United Airlines has a remarkable opportunity to improve the economic conditions of thousands of men and women who every day work tirelessly in support of the airline and its passengers. In the process, you have an opportunity to set a new standard for the airline industry when it comes to the fair treatment of subcontracted workers."
The increasing calls from elected officials in United's hub cities for better wages for subcontracted workers may complicate United's domestic growth strategy, which relies heavily on expanding the company's market share at hub airports and requires government approval for new gates and terminal space.
"If United Airlines is going to accept public dollars to do business in Chicago, it has a responsibility to provide the kind of jobs that help families build a brighter future," says Ald. Ameya Pawar of Chicago's 47th Ward.
As United is attempting to renew its lease at O'Hare, Pawar is one of 39 aldermen who are supporting a proposed ordinance that links good jobs that benefit the community, worker rights, and higher wages directly to the lease.
Coinciding with the shareholders meeting, airport workers at United's hubs in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Newark, Denver, and Washington, D.C. are asking customers to sign a petition to urge Muñoz to improve contracted workers' pay and customer service. Working people in Munich are also supporting U.S. airport workers by urging arriving passengers on United's inaugural flight from SFO to Munich to sign the petition.
Contracted airport workers from the majority of United's hubs are travelling from all over the country to voice their co-workers' challenges and concerns in the shareholders meeting:
- Tim Maddox works at LAX helping senior passengers and those with disabilities get to their planes. Tim has worked in several positions at the airport over the course of 22 years.
- Alicia Copper is a Lead Cabin Cleaner at the Newark Airport. Her dreams of going to college, getting her own apartment and buying a car have been deferred because she is paid just $12 an hour and can't afford it. Instead, she takes two buses to work and lives with her grandmother.
- Oliwia Pac is a Wheelchair Attendant at O'Hare, but because of short staffing, she has also guarded jetways, escorted minors, and has worked 17 hours shifts.
- Boluwa Ibobo is a lead lavatory and water driver at Denver International Airport. Ibobo leads and trains his team to refill the water tanks for bathrooms on United aircraft, empty the bathrooms of human waste, and dispose of it properly. As a trainer, he's conscious of the high turnover that results from low wages and a lack of benefits.
Today's events come on the heels of a heated congressional hearing on United Airlines' business practices. Oscar Muñoz is the highest-paid CEO in the airline industry and is still struggling to address customer service issues after the world watched as a paying customer was dragged off of a United flight on April 10. United Airlines ranks last in customer satisfaction among the major carriers and there is growing evidence that United's track record outsourcing work out to low-road contractors is just as poor as its track record with passengers. Longstanding tensions in both areas are now coming to the surface.
Despite United's practice of pushing down wages by outsourcing to low-road contractors, airport workers are winning job improvements, often with the backing of local elected officials who understand their communities' need for good jobs—and the adverse impact on public budgets of transferring the cost of doing business to taxpayers. Since the airport workers' movement began, more than 110,000 airport workers nationwide have won wage increases or other improvements and more than 22,000 have won a union. Most recently, nearly 5,000 airport workers at Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport won a living wage policy that raises wages to a minimum of $12.75/hour by 2019, a raise of more than $4/hour for some workers. At the Philadelphia International Airport, 1,400 workers recently gained the support of their Mayor, Governor and the majority of City Council and won a union with 32BJ-SEIU.
As part of the Fight for $15, contracted airport workers around the country are coming together in Airport Workers United, a movement of employees and their supporters raising their voices for $15 an hour and union rights to make our airports safe and secure for passengers, employees and our communities.
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SOURCE Service Employees International Union