Service Workers Launch Worldwide Airport Protests

airport protests
Higher pay, better working conditions and union rights are the focus of the organized protest, which began this past Tuesday.

Airport protests at 40 of the world’s busiest airports in 13 countries have begun as service workers such as janitors, baggage handlers, attendants, security officers and others grapple with and take a stand against the overall lack of a living wage. According to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), 30 percent of airport workers have to rely on public assistance to meet basic needs—a staggering 50 percent of all workers report skipping meals or going hungry. The airline industry is expected to see $38.4 billion this year, while workers’ wages have stalled since 9/11.

The protest and movement, Airport Workers United, consists of 25,000 employees and their supporters raising their voices for fair wages and union rights. These workers have joined SEIU to obtain raises and other improvements, including healthcare, paid sick leave and job protections.

“[Airport workers] have done it by coming together to elect leaders who work for all of us, no matter our skin color or zip code, and calling on those elected officials to hold greedy corporations accountable.”

Through the International Transport Workers’ Federation and the UNI Global Union, airport workers are planning protests at airports that control 36 percent of world air travel, where nearly 4 million people pass through each day. This includes some of the world’s largest airports—including Miami International and LAX, Charles De Gaulle in Paris and Flughafen in Frankfurt.

“In a world where global airlines and their contractors are rigging the rules to benefit the wealthy few, we must confront these corporations as a united front—all together, around the world,” says Christy Hoffman, general secretary of UNI Global Union. “Contracted airport workers—baggage handlers, janitors and security officers—make it possible for people to travel all over the world. They are coming together to speak with one voice until they win the respect, wages and rights they deserve. We know that when workers unite, they win, and these victories reverberate throughout the world.”

In Thailand, some airport workers are paid just $10 a day, for example, which is half of the living wage for that country. Airport workers in Indonesia are only paid $1.50 an hour, according to the SEIU.

“In city after city all across the country, airport workers have won raises—doubling their income in some cities—and the right to form a union,” says Mary Kay Henry, president of the SEIU. “They’ve done it by coming together to elect leaders who work for all of us, no matter our skin color or zip code, and calling on those elected officials to hold greedy corporations accountable. We won’t stop until all working people—white, black and brown—can join together in unions for the power in numbers to win higher wages, affordable healthcare and a better life for their families.”

The airport protests come at the heels of New York Port Authority’s vote to raise the minimum hourly wage for 40,000 workers at JFK, La Guardia and Newark airports to $19—the highest minimum wage in US history.

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