By: Andrea Sears
PHILADELPHIA – A majority of subcontracted workers at Philadelphia International Airport now have union representation. This week, nearly 1,400 baggage handlers, wheelchair agents, skycaps and other workers for Primeflight and Prospect Airport Services officially joined Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union.
Gabe Morgan, union vice president, calls it the latest victory in an ongoing campaign to organize airport service workers across the country.
“These workers have fought for the past four years, first to take their wages from, in some cases, as low as $5 an hour to $12 an hour, and they’ve been continuing their fight to try and obtain rights on the job,” he said.
He says 32BJ has organized 10,000 airport workers in New York and is organizing at airports in Boston, Florida, and Washington, D.C.
Onetha McKnight is a wheelchair agent at the Philadelphia airport, often one of the lowest-paying jobs because the company says they’re allowed to collect tips. She says most of the people they serve don’t know they could offer tips, and the workers aren’t allowed to ask for them. She feels union membership will be an improvement.
“Going forward, we have a say in what’s happening with our lives, what’s happening with our pay and our working conditions,” she said. “We can actually do something about it.”
With a poverty rate nearly twice the national average, Philadelphia is the largest big city for deep poverty in the nation.
Airport service jobs once were good-paying, union jobs, but 30 years ago, airlines switched to low-bid, nonunion subcontractors. Morgan says now, unionized workers are bringing good jobs back to Philadelphia.
“We’ll be sitting down with a really huge group of workers to bargain with multiple employers, to try and turn what really has been a concentrated set of poverty jobs in Philadelphia into living-wage jobs,” he explained.
32BJ represents 163,000 service workers in 11 states and Washington, D.C.