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Airport Attendants Seek Better Working Conditions

Airport attendants who assist people in wheelchairs say the wheelchairs often are not properly cleaned between passengers. (Daniel Lobo/Flickr)
Airport attendants who assist people in wheelchairs say the wheelchairs often are not properly cleaned between passengers. (Daniel Lobo/Flickr)
June 19, 2017

NEW YORK -- Contracted workers at New York's LaGuardia and Philadelphia International Airports are demanding better treatment and recognition of their union.

Airport attendants who help passengers in wheelchairs took their case to American Airlines executives at last week's shareholders meeting in New York. In Philadelphia, workers voted to join a union in April, but airline subcontractors PrimeFlight and Prospect Aviation Services are refusing to bargain with the union.

According to Gabe Morgan, vice president of Local 32-BJ SEIU, Primeflight recognizes the union at LaGuardia but attendants often don’t get the tools they need to do their jobs, and have to perform duties for which they haven’t been trained.

"They're understaffed. They don't have the things that they need,” Morgan said. “So they're not able to clean or maintain their wheelchairs in between passengers. They don't have the training that they need in case of emergencies, which happen."

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker responded to the LaGuardia workers, telling them he'll work with the attendants to ensure they have what they need to do their jobs.

To the Philadelphia workers, Parker said he supports their right to organize, but it isn't up to the airline to set the governing law for its contractors. Morgan said corporations often exert their authority over contractors they hire.

"Big companies that control the majority of the contracted work say to their contractors every day, 'You're on my property, I hire you, I want to be sure that you follow the law - and if you don't, I'll find a contractor who will,” he said.

A new report, entitled "Limited Access,” showed that poor working conditions, low pay and inadequate training for subcontracted airport workers can cause passengers with disabilities to miss flights and suffer injuries or long-term harm.

Morgan added that airport jobs had good pay and benefits until the airlines started farming them out to contractors that pay poverty-level wages.

"Airport workers around the country, predominantly women and people of color, have begun organizing to try and change these jobs back into the good jobs that they used to be,” he said.

Similar struggles for better working conditions and union representation are going on at airports in Chicago, Miami and Washington, D.C.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY