‘Fed Up’ Airport Workers Staging Walkoffs and Strikes — Could It Hinder Holiday Travel?

An unrecognizable airport location with a decorated Christmas Tree in the foreground an a flight departures display visible in the background.
Alan Brown/Visionkick / iStock.com

Airport service workers from more than 15 airports staged strikes and rallied on Capitol Hill on Dec. 8 for a national day of action. The goal? To call on Congress to pass the Good Jobs for Good Airports Act just ahead of a busy holiday travel season.

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The workers in question included those who clean planes, handle baggage, and assist wheelchair passengers — and nationwide activity was planned at airports controlling 45% of all U.S. domestic air travel and 65% of all U.S. travel through major hubs, according to a press release.

They were joined by members of Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Sens. Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal, Reps. Jesús “Chuy” García and Eleanor Holmes Norton, as well as SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry and other allies.

“Airport workers like me and working people all across the economy are fed up. Without us, no one could travel safely to visit their families over the holidays,” Verna Montalvo, a cabin cleaner at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport organizing with SEIU, stated in the release. “Seeing smiles on passengers’ faces gives me a huge sense of pride, but it comes at a huge cost when I can’t support my own family on poverty wages. Airports connect all of us — and it’s time that jobs for those of us who keep airports safe, clean and functioning are good jobs you can actually thrive on. Congress must step up and pass the Good Jobs for Good Airports Act.”

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Sen. Markey introduced the Good Jobs for Good Airports Act in June to boost airport workers’ wages and benefits, a piece of legislation “that will improve conditions for hundreds of thousands of largely Black, Brown, and immigrant service workers,” according to a statement from the senator.

“Airport service workers have been at the frontlines of the pandemic at airports across the country to make sure we get safely to our destination — they need fair wages and good benefits. Congress has to pass my Good Jobs for Good Airports Act to get this done,” Markey tweeted on Dec. 8.

Last summer was a chaotic and frustrating travel season, with thousands of flights being cancelled or delayed, partly due to staff shortages. Now, airport workers are being blamed and being asked to double up on their duties, according to a statement.

“We don’t get enough paid time off. We’re supposed to get a week of paid sick days. But we’re so short-staffed they make it almost impossible for you to take a sick day,” Omar Rodriguez, a ramp agent and cabin cleaner employed by the contractor Swissport USA, said in the statement. “We get blamed for delays, but we’re only given a few minutes to clean and don’t have enough people to do the work,” added Rodriguez. “No one wants to stay because the pay and benefits are not enough for what we do.”

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So far in 2022, 1,042,056 flights were delayed and 139,683 were cancelled, according to Department of Transportation data.

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About the Author

Yaël Bizouati-Kennedy is a full-time financial journalist and has written for several publications, including Dow Jones, The Financial Times Group, Bloomberg and Business Insider. She also worked as a vice president/senior content writer for major NYC-based financial companies, including New York Life and MSCI. Yaël is now freelancing and most recently, she co-authored  the book “Blockchain for Medical Research: Accelerating Trust in Healthcare,” with Dr. Sean Manion. (CRC Press, April 2020) She holds two master’s degrees, including one in Journalism from New York University and one in Russian Studies from Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès, France.
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