Last updated: 10:51 AM ET, Mon January 18 2016

Airport Support Staff Protest At Nine Airports Today

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | January 18, 2016

Airport Support Staff Protest At Nine Airports Today

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Airport workers are planning to protest at at least nine major U.S. airport today. The protests could include picketing in the landside terminals and in pick up-drop off and baggage claim areas. Many of the groups plan to also gather at airport and airline offices. In Miami, for example, workers will protest at the offices of their airport’s main service contractor.    

Possible delays for some fliers

Some of the disruptions could be modest. Passengers have had to work their way through picket lines at Seattle Tacoma International this morning. Philadelphia’s airport employees, meanwhile, plan to march through the terminals, momentarily bloocking fliers. In Washington, D.C., the protests could result in major delays. As many as 200 workers are planning to march along Independence Avenue near the Washington, D.C. Mall, blocking traffic on the major thoroughfare. In New York, workers at LaGuardia could block the airport’s main entrance during their march.  

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Asking for higher wages

The protestors are cleaners, baggage handlers, wheelchair attendants and ground support crew members whose main complaint is low wages. Many work for minimum wage, which varies according to state. At all nine airports where protests are planned, these workers will be asking for an increase to $15 per hour (plus benefits). They will also be protesting against efforts to stop them from unionizing. 

In addition to Seattle, Philadelphia and Washington, protests are slated to take place in Boston, New York area airports, Miami, Portland and Chicago. 

A complex issue

This issue is more complicated than it first seems. Most of the lowest-wage workers who plan to protest are not actually employed by airports or by airlines. They work for third-party contractors who specialize in providing these kinds of airport support services. This means that airports do not directly control the wages of these workers, which are sometimes as low as $6.75 per hour. So the solution is not as simple as giving everyone a pay increase. 

The protest leaders have said that one of their goals is to get federal and state government involved in some sort of regulation of the airport support service industry. Airports and contractors have been against wage increases because they would mean higher operating costs for airports and/or less profits for service firms. 

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Sympathy in the government

Some in government are sympathetic to the airport workers. New York governor Andrew Cuomo penned an op-ed in the New York Daily News in support of the more than 12,000 support staff workers at New York City area airports. In the piece, he breaks down the economics of the issue:

“Full-time airport workers take home roughly $21,000 a year. In New York City, for a family of four, that’s well below the poverty line and barely enough to cover the cost of rent. If the minimum wage were raised to $15 per hour, airport workers’ earnings would increase by more than 5% or $10,000 a year.” 

This is a complex problem that most travelers are probably unaware of. At the very least, today’s protests will make more people aware of airport support staff. 


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