Secretary of Labor with Service Workers at Reagan Airport


SEIU President Mary Kay Henry and Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez to Walk a Day in the Shoes of Airline Contracted Service Workers at Reagan National Airport. SEIU Leaders and Perez Will Call for Improved Training, Safety and Wage Standards at Nation’s Airports.

Washington, D.C. – On Friday, SEIU leaders and U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez will meet with airline contracted service workers at Reagan National Airport to discuss their work to keep the airport safe, clean and running smoothly. Perez will talk to workers from several airports including DCA, O’Hare, Philadelphia and Newark about their struggle to make ends meet while earning poverty wages and the bullying and intimidation they face from their employers as they demand a voice on the job.

Perez has worked to fight for the rights of low-wage workers throughout his tenure as U.S. Secretary of Labor. Last week, he welcomed an airport worker to a panel on Worker Voice and noted that “Airport workers are some of the most forgotten workers in America.”

Service workers, who include baggage handlers, terminal cleaners, cabin cleaners, skycaps, wheelchair agents, customer service agents, terminal security officers and ramp workers have gone on strike at Sea-Tac (Seattle), O’Hare, Logan (Boston), John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia, Newark, Philadelphia and Fort Lauderdale to protest charges of coercion and threats of intimidation committed by their employers and over concerns that low wages, high turnover, insufficient training, short staffing and work speedups not only put workers in danger but may also undermine safety and quality of service.

Nationwide strikes have taken place amidst record profits for the aviation industry while many airport workers continue to live in abject poverty.

Last year alone airlines raked in more than $23 billion in profits. 

The national movement has drawn support from dozens of top elected officials as well as celebrity activists, including Danny Glover who confronted airline contractors over alleged surveillance and interrogation of workers and signed a pledge of support for their fight for $15/hr and union rights. Workers nationwide joined a Thanksgiving fast that brought national attention to the crisis at our airports. 

Around the United States, contracted airport workers are coming together in Airport Workers United, a movement of working people and their allies, raising their voices for $15 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 airport 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.

3:00pm – Curbside outside Delta departures door B (level 3)
DCA Eulen America wheelchair agent Kwaku Agyeman* and Antwione McShane* a Chicago O’Hare security officer share personal stories, explain job duties and give Secretary Perez an “Airport Workers Rising” pin.

3:08pm – Baggage handling area then into terminal (level 3)
Secretary Perez greeted by DCA Eulen baggage handler Kebede Tegen* who explains his job duties.

3:20pm – Eulen checkpoint (level 2)
Secretary Perez meets DCA Eulen America checkpoint agent Leggesse Woldearegay* who will share his personal story and job duties.

3:30pm -3:55pm Cosi (level 2)
Perez sits down to talk with Gertrudes Contreras* a cabin cleaner for the subcontractor Primeflight at Newark Airport and Bruce Cornish* a GSI ramp worker at PHL about their daily struggles.

Secretary Perez will also be accompanied by SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, SEIU Executive Vice President Valarie Long, Local 32BJ Executive Vice President Larry Engelstein, and 32BJ Vice President and Capital Area Director President Jaime Contreras throughout the visit.

Kwaku Agyeman, 59, works part-time for Eulen America at DCA as a wheelchair agent, relying on tips to supplement his $6.75/hr wage. “It’s left to the generosity of the passenger.” Agyeman hopes to somehow, someday to help his 18-year-old daughter pay for college after she graduates from high school. He also hopes to be able to retire and buy a home.

Kebede Tegen is a DCA Eulen American baggage carrier who worked as an accountant for 22 years in Ethiopia before coming to America, escaping the horrors of the Eritrean–Ethiopian War. Now, as a baggage handler at DCA, he earns so little that often goes without food for an entire day.

Legesse Woldeargay is a Eulen America checkpoint agent at DCA. He’s a father of four and grandfather of seven. Legesse moved to this country about 10 years ago in order to be with his children who had already moved here and to get enough money to save for retirement back home in Ethiopia. He and his wife live with here with his oldest son because things are more difficult then he anticipated. Leggese at 70 years old now works two jobs at the airport. He works for Master Security overnight starting at 8:30pm-until 4:30am sometimes when flights are delayed. During the day he works for Eulen from 11am-7pm.

Gertrudes Contreras is a cabin cleaner for the subcontractor Primeflight at Newark Airport. The fifty-nine year old airplane cabin cleaner from Peru has been working at the airport for nine years and makes just $10.10 an hour. As a cabin cleaner she is responsible for security checks on planes, but the company she works for, Primeflight, ha sometimes forced cabin cleaners like her to rush through essential security checks of plane cabins, making it difficult to ensure passenger safety. Gertrudes has been an outspoken proponent of stronger security protocols at Newark Airport. She has also been a strong voice in the petition of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to raise wages and provide benefits to airport workers in the region.

Antwione McShane – is a security officer for Universal Security at Chicago O’Hare. He lives in one of the city’s roughest neighborhood and helps take care of his grandmother. Antwione got into security to try and build a career to get out of poverty. However, with the wages and lack of benefits he isn’t able to. He’s also a rapper and wrote a rap about the airport campaign and never left the city of Chicago.

Bruce Cornish was a PHL ramp worker until he was fired last week by his employer, GSI after speaking out for a union and a safer, better airport. Bruce had worked for GSI for nearly a year and was a model employee until his employer began to bully him for raising his voice for a union. After raising concerns about safety on the tarmac and photographing an airport mechanic working on the boss’s personal vehicle, Bruce was then abruptly fired without a way to support himself after speaking out for a better, safer airport.

Bruce is one of many workers who have been fired since worker organizing began at PHL and other airports around the country. Bruce continues to fight because he understands the importance of a union for airport workers. He worked at the airport in the late 1990s and had a union and a family-sustaining wage. “There is a big difference between this job with or without a union. We had a contract. It was black and white,” said Cornish.

With more than 155,000 members in 11 states, including 17,000 in the D.C. Metropolitan Area, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.

About Ramón Jiménez

Ramón Jiménez, actual Managing Editor de MetroLatinoUSA. Periodista que cubre eventos de las comunidades latinas en Washington D.C., Maryland y Virginia. Graduado de la Escuela de Periodismo de la Universidad del Distrito de Columbia. Galardonado en numerosas ocasiones por parte de la Asociación Nacional de Publicaciones Hispanas (NAHP) y otras organizaciones comunitarias y deportivas de la región metropolitana de esta capital. También premiado en dos ocasiones como Mejor Periodista del Año por la cobertura de la comunidad salvadoreña; premios otorgados por la Oficina de Asuntos Latinos del Alcalde de Washington (OLA) y otras organizaciones. Ha sido miembro del jurado calificador en diferentes concursos literarios, de belleza y talento en la región metropolitana. Ha visitado zonas de desastre en Nicaragua, Honduras y El Salvador e invitado a esos países por organizaciones que asisten a personas de escasos recursos económicos. Antes trabajó en otros medios de prensa de Virginia y Washington, D.C., incluyendo reportajes para una agencia noticiosa mundial.

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