Fighting for better pay and the freedom to strike

Going beyond calls for a raise, baggage handlers at Philadelphia International Airport went on a one-day strike Thursday, citing what they alleged was intimidation and harassment by management.
“They tell us, if you go on a strike, you’re gonna lose your job,” said Sarina Santos, 29, a PrimeFlight baggage handler who took part in the strike. “I just want to feel they respect us.”
“PrimeFlight has been violating federal law by threatening them for talking, sharing their stories about the wages, the working conditions,” said Gabe Morgan, state director of 32BJ SEIU, which organized these employees.
In May, the city charter was changed in a voter referendum to require a $10.88 minimum hourly wage for workers employed by subcontractors working on city contracts or leases.
But local employees of PrimeFlight, a North Carolina-based subcontractor for several airlines, did not get a raise. PrimeFlight did not respond to requests for comment.
“No one can really live off $7.25,” said line queue supervisor Misha Williams, 23, who was fired after leading an earlier protest. She says she was terminated in retaliation.
Despite the strike by 50 to 100 employees outside the B/C terminal departures door, there was “no impact on airport operations,” said airport spokesman Mark Pesch.
As the strikers picketed and chanted, City Council passed a resolution requiring the airport to try to resolve the labor dispute and pledging “lawful action” if any strikers lose their jobs.
“It’s about making sure that the individuals who are the engine of the Philadelphia International Airport are taken care of,” said City Councilmen Kenyatta Johnson, who introduced the resolution with Councilman Curtis Jones Jr.
When subcontracts at the airport expire this summer the airport will have a chance to negotiate terms to mandate that the $10.88 wage is met by companies like PrimeFlight, Johnson said.
With companies such as PrimeFlight, whose workers claim it does not support the new law, “that’s something we must monitor,” Johnson said.

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