Philly airport workers strike for higher wages

Charles Mostoller

“We work, we sweat, put $15 in our check!”

That was the chant echoed to the beat of a drum as members of 32BJ SEIU – the workers who handle luggage, push wheelchairs and carry out other ground servicetasks at the Philadelphia International Airport – walked off the job in protest for higher wages Thursday.

About 50 of the workers had planned the strike last week, but postponed the work stoppage in light ofthe deadly terror attack on Brussels.

Some started their protests as early as Wednesday night, angry that their employers –subcontracted service providers PrimeFlight Aviation Services and McGinn Security – pay some employees less than the new city-mandated minimum wage of $12. Even those who make the minimum wage are unhappy with their paychecks.

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One such worker, Kehlil Brown, a baggage handler at Philadelphia International Airport who makes $12 an hour, said he is concerned about health hazards on the job.

“We get a lot of carbon monoxide fumes from the tugs that pull the bags in. Sometimes they leave them on and the fumes just run,” said Brown.“There was a sewage smell, but its pretty much fixed. I’d like to have more job security, sick days, be able to take off without feeling like I’ll lose my job.”

When Brown complains about the issue to his boss, he claims he gets no response.

State Rep. Jason Dawkins was at Thursday’s protest at terminals B and C.

He said the SEIU was the only union that supported him during his first run for office, and therefore, he had to return the love.

“For those individuals who have to [work] day in and day out and not be fairly compensated, I find that to be criminal in this day and age,” he said.

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“I’m out here supporting them because they supported me. I know a lot of my constituents are here and I want them to know that they’re being fairly represented by their legislator in Harrisburg.”

Julie Blust, a spokeswoman for 32BJ SEIU, said that in addition to the wage issue, more chief complaints among the airport workers were confusion around sick days, health and safety on the job and hours being cut. She said the lowest wage made among the subcontracted unionized workers at the airport is $11 an hour.

“Most of these guys have been at it since 5 a.m. You can see the bags under their eyes,” she said.

PrimeFlight and McGinn did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

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