Contact:
Marc Goumbri, marc.goumbri@seiu.org,

Issued June 08, 2016

Airport Workers Raise Concerns at United Airlines Annual General Meeting about Effects of Low-Road Subcontractors on Passenger Safety

Baggage handlers, cabin cleaners at Chicago’s O’Hare and Newark, N.J., Liberty airports reiterate call for United to invest in responsible contractors; request meeting with United CEO Oscar Munoz to discuss substandard working conditions

CHICAGO—Baggage handlers, cabin cleaners and skycaps employed by United Airlines’ subcontractors Prospect Airport Services and PrimeFlight Aviation Services, at O’Hare and Newark, N.J., Liberty international airports respectively, rallied Wednesday outside the annual shareholder meeting at the company’s headquarters. The terminal cleaners and security officers called on CEO Oscar Munoz to invest in responsible contractors that would turn airports into economic drivers and generators of good jobs.

“My aunt and grandma and I all work at O'Hare airport, and we all make minimum wage,” said Raquel Brito, a baggage handler for Prospect Airport Services in the United Airlines terminal. “We’re sick of struggling to make ends meet. United Airlines should not sit by as low-road contractors pay us poverty wages.”

While contracted employees, such as Brito, are the front-line employees servicing United Airlines’ terminal operations, subcontractors continue to pay these workers poverty wages without meaningful benefits.

As a leader in the aviation industry, United Airlines can and must play a positive role by helping to put in place a sustainable employment model, one that is capable of retaining a skilled and experienced workforce, including its contracted service providers. Maintaining a well-trained workforce through better jobs would help reduce turnover and improve safety and security as well as the overall passenger experience.

The workers launched an online petition requesting a meeting with United CEO Oscar Munoz to discuss how to improve conditions for better quality service.

“We are supposed to do security sweeps but we don’t have enough time to do that because we are often rushed and understaffed,” said Bernadia Francois, who cleans United Airlines’ airplanes for PrimeFlight at Newark International Airport. “ We sometimes send out planes without doing everything we are supposed to do.”

Francois has been at Newark Airport for about five years. On a typical night, Francois and her team clean about nine planes. This is critical and demanding work but she makes just $10.10 per hour. 

The personnel are specifically calling for an investment in contractors who will provide: 

·      A workplace free of retaliation, harassment and intimidation;

·      Living wages;

·      Quality, affordable healthcare and benefits;

·      Respect from management, and fair and equal treatment;

·      Equipment, resources and training necessary to do their jobs; and

·      A safe workplace and reasonable workloads so they can perform their jobs well.

“While it’s my job to help the passengers be safe, I do not feel safe myself,” said Destiny Briggs who is paid only $10.10 per hour cleaning United’s planes during her overnight shift working for contractor PrimeFlight at Newark Liberty airport. “We do not have the proper equipment to do our jobs, and I have had to work in the dark during my shift. With just two training sessions, I do not feel adequately prepared to do the work.” A single mother of a 2-year old child, Briggs was forced to move back home with her mother and sister because she couldn’t afford to be on her own.

Wednesday’s rally comes on the heels of the first-ever airports global day of action last week when workers at 30 major airports around the globe protested against poverty wages to send a message to the powerful airlines’ executives gathered in Dublin for the IATA (International Air Transport Association) annual general meeting that with record profits, there’s no excuse for airport personnel to live in poverty.

A report finds the global airline industry has created a race to the bottom that is putting airport workers, airport safety and the quality of services for passengers under pressure. The report concludes that cost cutting is driving this race to the bottom, but airlines have the power to stop it.

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Around the country, contracted airport workers are coming together in Airport Workers United, a movement of employees and their allies, raising their voices for $15 an hour and union rights to make our airports safe and secure for passengers, employees and our communities. By sticking together, speaking out for change and going on strike, these employees have won wage increases in Los Angeles, New York City, Newark, N.J., Minneapolis, Boston, Philadelphia and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. More than 70,000 workers nationwide have either received wage increases or other improvements, including healthcare, paid sick leave and worker retention policies as a result of the campaign.