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Port Commissioners Hear from Portland Airport Contract Workers

PHOTO: It was a standing-room-only crowd at Wednesday's Port of Portland Commission meeting, as workers for airport service subcontractors shared their concerns and heard commissioners' preliminary suggestions for improving Portland International Airport as a workplace. Photo credit: Jesse Stemmler.
PHOTO: It was a standing-room-only crowd at Wednesday's Port of Portland Commission meeting, as workers for airport service subcontractors shared their concerns and heard commissioners' preliminary suggestions for improving Portland International Airport as a workplace. Photo credit: Jesse Stemmler.
February 12, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. - Workers at Portland International Airport (PDX) got a chance on Wednesday to address their concerns directly to the Port Commission about subcontractors' working conditions and policies.

At the meeting, commissioners shared their own first draft of "Workplace Initiatives" for Airport Service Providers. Workers like Nick Campbell, a lead ramp agent, then went to the microphone to share behind-the-scenes views of working at PDX.

"I feel like it went great," says Campbell. "Not just myself, but all the different workers that spoke. They're trying to offer us just enough to get us to back down. They're offering just enough, but not necessarily the right 'just enough.'"

Campbell told the commission he thinks not holding subcontractors to minimum standards contributes to high turnover rates that compromise safety, both for workers and airline passengers. For the most part, workers said they like their airport jobs but face persistent under-staffing and equipment problems.

For more than a year, workers for baggage, cleaning and fueling companies have issued surveys and statements as they organize to join SEIU Local 49. They contend airline subcontractors' workers have few benefits and low pay.

Passenger service agent Kasil Kapriel told commissioners she's been making minimum wage at the airport for eight years, and doesn't like to turn to social service agencies for help.

"I don't have to be stressed out," she says. "I want to to be able to pay my bills on time and pay my rent on time so I don't have to worry."

Campbell spoke in favor of a worker retention policy, which isn't included in the Port Commission's proposal.

"I work for Menzies Aviation. If Alaska Airlines decided to drop us, you know, I could be out of a job," he says. "With the worker retention we would be able to have priority hiring with the new company and be able to have that opportunity."

Concession workers and the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) also spoke at the hearing. The Port Commission says it expects to finalize its Workplace Initiatives by April.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR