“Will I die?” How a Five-Year-Old’s Question Made Me Fight for Safe and Secure Airports

We Must Act Now to Raise Wages and Keep Our Airports Safe

Melifaite Cine, Cabin Cleaner, 32BJ SEIU

As a cabin cleaner at Ft. Lauderdale Airport, I keep planes clean and safe for passengers. On January 6, 2017, the unthinkable happened—a shooter opened fire at the airport.

I immediately started figuring out what I could do to help. I was helping a family who had a 5-year-old daughter who asked me, “Will I die?” I told her, “No, you will not die. We will do our best to get you to a safe place.”

But I didn’t know where that safe place was.

Since that day, I’ve joined with my coworkers in 32BJ SEIU to call for paid emergency response training so we can keep ourselves and others safe. Airport workers like me—the cabin cleaners, wheelchair agents, ramp workers, customer service agents, and others—are in constant contact with passengers. We need to be properly trained.

We also need higher wages. Most of us work for airline subcontractors that pay low wages and offer no benefits. Many of us have to work two to three jobs just to survive.

When workers are paid enough to make ends meet, it reduces turnover. You don’t want a revolving door of untrained workers at our airports. Good wages keep experienced workers on the job and increase security. That’s a win-win for workers and the public.

The good news is that elected officials in Ft. Lauderdale are responding to our calls for change. We are on our way to raising wages and implementing a new training program for airport workers. Even though we’re still fighting to form our union, it’s because we’re speaking with one voice that we've been able to make these improvements. The only way to keep moving forward is by uniting together in a union and making our voices louder than they would be if we tried to speak up as individuals.

Other airports have the opportunity to learn from our experience and take action before something happens. Airlines, airport contractors, and city and state officials should do everything they can to make sure that a child—perhaps travelling to see grandma or grandpa—never has to ask that question again.

Read more about how little training is provided to airport workers and why we are sticking together to fight for our union at NBC News.

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