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Philly Airport Workers Sign Union Contract

SEIU represents 25,000 workers at 37 U.S. airports. (Photo: 32BJ SEIU)
SEIU represents 25,000 workers at 37 U.S. airports. (Photo: 32BJ SEIU)
June 12, 2018

PHILADELPHIA – The first-ever union contract means higher wages and benefits for some 1,500 workers at Philadelphia International Airport.

After five years of organizing baggage handlers, wheelchair agents, cabin cleaners and others, union representatives say they have won a contract that will bring them a living wage and benefits including paid time off. The contract gives the workers wages of $13.60-an-hour, more than double what they were earning when the organizing effort began.

And according to Local 32BJ SEIU vice president Gabe Morgan, it gives them much more than higher pay.

"As they went into this bargaining, they were focused frankly even more on securing the kind of basic job protections that most Americans used to have, as much or maybe even more than they were on wages," he says. "So, tough to over-describe what a big win this is for workers here in Philadelphia."

He credits the City Council, which passed an ordinance requiring a living wage at the airport, and Mayor Jim Kenny with being major forces behind securing the new contract.

Onetha McKnight, a wheelchair attendant at the airport, points out that prior to the organizing effort workers were making minimum wage, which kept them in poverty.

"Now I'm able to pay my bills on time, I can get the necessary medication that I need, I have a little savings now and, all around, it's just been great," she says.

Philadelphia International Airport is now among the first in the nation where an overwhelming majority of subcontracted workers have unionized.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, last year only 10.7 percent of American workers were union members, down from more than 20 percent in 1983. But Morgan says unions may be coming back.

"We see thousands of workers organizing every year and growing," he adds. We've organized 5,000 workers in the past four years just in Philadelphia and tens of thousands of workers in this industry up and down the eastern seaboard."

SEIU now represents 25,000 members at 37 U.S. airports where some 120,000 workers have won higher wages.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA