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No Walkout, But Same Concerns for Portland Airport Workers

Portland International Airport janitor Julie Hayden spoke at a national rally this week in support of a $15 minimum wage and the right to join a union. Courtesy: SEIU
Portland International Airport janitor Julie Hayden spoke at a national rally this week in support of a $15 minimum wage and the right to join a union. Courtesy: SEIU
November 20, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. - Oregon's busiest airport isn't among the seven where service workers went on strike on Thursday, but janitors, baggage handlers, wheelchair assistants and others at Portland International Airport say they have all the same complaints.

Julie Hayden, who works as a janitor at PDX, caught a plane to Washington, D.C., this week to attend a national rally for higher wages and the right to join a union. Hayden said it isn't easy to support a family on $11 an hour, but this is about more than money.

"No matter what we ask our companies regarding what our needs are - proper safety, whether it's gear or training, you know, even more time - they're not being met," she said. "We're having to fight for it."

Airports and airlines subcontract most of their service work. SEIU, the union that organized the rally and this week's airport walkouts, said not enough is being done to hold subcontractors accountable for how their workers are paid and treated - and those who try to unionize often are retaliated against.

At PDX, Hayden said, she's responsible for keeping 15 gate areas, three operations areas and a boardroom clean on her shifts.

She thinks the busy holiday travel season is a good time to call attention to how much money the airlines are making - and how little of it goes to the workers who make the travel experience as pleasant as possible.

"We definitely work very, very hard and we love our jobs, and we try to show it to the best of our ability," she said. "But we work more and more, and we're getting less and less."

The workers are part of the "Fight for 15" movement for $15 hourly wages. At PDX, the majority of contract workers are not represented by a union, although some are determined to change that.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR