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Amid Outbreak, PDX Airport Workers Call for Bill of Rights

Among Portland airport workers' demands is a call for three paid sick days. (EchoGolf Photography/Adobe Stock)
Among Portland airport workers' demands is a call for three paid sick days. (EchoGolf Photography/Adobe Stock)
March 23, 2020

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Challenges due to the COVID-19 outbreak are showing why employees at the Portland International Airport need more support, workers say.

Airport workers, including the folks who push wheelchairs, clean airplane cabins and help with baggage, are calling on the Port of Portland to institute a worker bill of rights.

It includes annual cost-of-living wage increases, affordable health care and a paid sick-leave policy.

Airport worker Ben Deines says the last item has become especially important. He says in the past, workers have come to work despite being sick.

"But obviously with coronavirus going around, you can't really do that," he states. "And the manager has requested that anybody who feels sick should stay home, but if you don't have a lot of sick days, then you're in a really bad situation."

Oregon requires employers to offer five paid sick days. The bill of rights is asking for an additional three days off and premium pay for holiday work.

The Port of Portland says it will be reviewing these recommendations, noting most airport employees work for a tenant or subcontractor rather than the Port.

Maggie Long, executive director of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 49, says other airports along the West Coast, including in San Francisco and Los Angeles, have passed worker bills of rights.

Although there are a few avenues, she says the union prefers to see the Port of Portland pass these policies so they're available to a wide swath of workers.

Long asks if the airport won't do it now, when will it happen?

"They didn't want to do this two years ago when airlines were making record profits and traffic was high at PDX and they suddenly don't want to do this now that we're in this crisis," she points out. "So the time is now."

Deines says the Portland airport touts itself as the best airport in the country, but it needs to step up for its workers in order to support that claim.

"We all need to be paid well, we all deserve access to health care because if we're stressed out about those things from month to month then we can't do our best in our jobs," he stresses

Disclosure: SEIU Local 49 contributes to our fund for reporting on Livable Wages/Working Families, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR