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Workers at more than a dozen major U.S. airports are planning a 24-hour fast beginning today, one of the busiest travel days of the year, hoping to draw attention to their fight for an increase in wages and union rights.
Airport workers in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Denver, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston, Newark, Fort Lauderdale, Washington, D.C., Cleveland and Columbus are participating in the fast. They will be wearing purple shirts and buttons that say "Ask Me Why I'm Fasting" in the hopes of galvanizing the traveling public who will be out in force for the Thanksgiving holiday travel period.
Airport workers include terminal cleaners, cabin cleaners, skycaps, wheelchair agents, customer service agents, terminal security officers, ramp workers and baggage handlers.
In addition to a $15 an hour minimum wage, the workers are seeking to unionize - which, they claim, has been suppressed by management - as well as health care and retirement benefits.
"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. Baccus' statement was provided by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). "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.
The fast comes a week after thousands of contract airport workers at the seven busiest U.S. hubs went on a mini-strike to improve conditions. The strike was coordinated in that it came mostly overnight and did not disrupt or delay any flights.
Elected officials along with community and clergy leaders joined the picket lines and lent their support.
"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," Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.
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."
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 one in five workers report they skipped a meal within the past week because of financial reasons.
Rich Thomaselli has written for TravelPulse since 2014 and has been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. His work has...
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