In response to the Metropolitan Airports Commission administrators proposing to raise wages for airport workers to $1 above the state’s minimum wage, SEIU Local 26 President Javier Morillo issued the following statement:
“SEIU Local 26 has been proud to work alongside sub-contracted airport workers, passengers and disability rights advocates over the last few years in our shared goal to end poverty wages and to make MSP an airport that works for all of us, not just wealthy airlines like Delta. We are proud that Governor Dayton has taken concrete steps to lift up the cause of workers, including appointing minimum wage airport worker Ibrahim Mohamed to be a MAC Commissioner and calling for the MAC to raise wages, saying $10 should be a “starting point’ but if MAC wants to make it higher, ‘I don’t have a problem with that’”.
“At the last MAC meeting there was a promise to bring multiple proposals to the May 18th meeting, but this week they instead announced that only one proposal will be brought forward, one that would raise wages $1 above minimum wage for a limited number of workers. There are many concerns with this proposal. First of all, because of the path they are choosing the pay increase will not cover all workers at MSP, nor do we have any confidence it will actually be enforced. Hundreds of workers will be left out of this deal, falling even further behind at a time of growing income inequality in our state and country. And recent experience tells us the policy will be unenforceable or unenforced. In December, MAC passed with much fanfare a rule about paid sick days, effective January 1, 2015. Although SEIU confirmed with the MAC that in March we could begin letting people know of their new rights (three months after it was supposedly effective), workers this week learned that MAC has not taken even the first step in implementing the rule, six months after Commissioners approved the change. (The recently released memo stated the policy “have been held temporarily for final execution” but gives no indication of when this might actually happen). This recent experience makes it a risky proposition at best to trust MAC leadership’s recommendation that this policy is the solution to enacting the Governor’s vision.
“As MAC Chairman Dan Boivin said, the MAC’s motivation for raising wages was that ‘many airport workers must draw on public assistance.’ The proposal to raise wages to $1 above minimum wage will not come close to solving this problem. Also weighing on commissioners, Boivin said, is the fact that the airlines are now posting healthy profits. It was announced last month that Delta reaped record profits and their CEO saw a 22% pay increase to over $17 million dollars in 2014.
“There are other options that were discussed during the April MAC meeting that the staff memo has ruled out without a transparent process or the input of Commissioners. The Quality Service Wage (referenced in the memo as “Prevailing Wage”)—similar to what Ramsey and Hennepin County have used for years for service employees—is the best way to reach the vision of Governor Dayton and truly make MSP the best airport in the country. Currently this option is being left out of the discussion without explanation and without transparency. This current proposal from MAC administrators to raise the minimum wage for a portion of the sub-contracted airport workers does not satisfy the goal workers and disability rights activists have been fighting for over the past few years. It will not end poverty wages at MSP to make an airport that works for all of us, nor does it live up to the vision that Governor Dayton has laid out about truly improving the lives of front line workers. We are urging commissioners to reject this current proposal, evaluate the other options, and take the time needed to do the job well so that we can all stand together in ushering in a new day at MSP in June.”
One week after large protest, the Metropolitan Airports Commission pass policy that will benefit hundreds of workers at MSP
Minneapolis, MN – Airport workers employed by sub-contractors for airlines like Delta won an important victory Monday when the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) voted unanimously to pass a policy requiring contractors to provide paid sick time to workers, a move the Commission said was the first for a Minnesota jurisdiction. The vote came just one week after hundreds of workers and supporters flooded the airport for a protest that called for $15 and a union, paid sick leave, fair scheduling and an end to firing and intimidation. The paid sick policy requires that contractors provide one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, and will go into effect in January. The policy allows usage if the employee or a family member is sick, and allows for paid leave in the case of sexual assault or domestic abuse.
Suado Gabow is one of the workers who is part of the fight that won this important victory, and is leading on the continued work for $15 and a union.
“We are proud that after years of fighting, and just one week after a big protest, we took a big step forward today by winning paid sick days for thousands airport workers,” said Gabow, a wheelchair assistant at Delta sub-contractor Air Serv. “We still are fighting to raise our minimum-wage pay and improve other working conditions, but knowing that if myself or my daughter gets sick I don’t have to choose between health and a paycheck is a really big deal.”
At the meeting, dozens of workers and supporters stood holding signs from previous protests that said “Still Waiting for Paid Sick Days” while the Commission heard testimony from Kip Hedges, the worker Delta fired for speaking out about wages, and Air Serv workers who advocated for passing the paid sick policy. Hundreds of Air Serv workers do essential jobs such as cabin cleaning and supporting seniors and passengers with disabilities as cart drivers and wheel chair assistants. Despite this important work, most are paid minimum wage with virtually no benefits, training or support. Workers have been coming together over the last few years in their fight to join a union to address these issues, and this victory is an important step for the campaign. Before the vote to pass the paid sick policy, MAC Commissioner Erica Prosser noted that if all airport employees were granted the right to collectively bargain, workers would be able to bargain themselves and the MAC would not find itself in the position to have to craft policies like paid sick leave.
After the meeting, workers celebrated the victory and committed to using the momentum from this victory in their continued fight for $15 and a union. A growing coalition of labor, faith and community groups continue to advocate at the Capitol for Earned Safe and Sick time for all Minnesota workers.
In response to concerns raised by elderly and disabled passengers and the airport workers who provide care for them, the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) has taken initial steps to improve the quality of service we are able to provide to travelers to and from Minnesota.
Recognizing the importance of experienced and healthy workers, staff recommended the MAC include worker retention and paid sick leave provisions for airline contractors licensed at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP).
Properly addressing the retention of experienced and healthy workers would be a great first step, one that we hope will apply to all airport workers. We also hope the MAC will ensure that workers’ ability to use their earned sick leave is not impeded by subjective judgments from management, or by a lack of quality, affordable health insurance.
It would be a cruel irony to provide paid sick days on paper, but require a doctor’s note of a worker who cannot afford to pay for a visit to the doctor. This is just one of the hazards of solving complex problems without adequate representation of the workers who serve on the frontline of that system.
In order to solve the many issues that workers and passengers face, we must ensure that airport workers have a voice on the job, and are able to advocate for themselves and the elderly and disabled passengers they care for.
Labor Peace: a Comprehensive Solution for Workers and Passengers, which Stabilizes Revenue Streams for the MAC
The MAC has an opportunity to enact a labor peace policy in order to ensure safe, efficient operations and a stable revenue stream. A labor peace policy requires employers and unions to use non-disruptive means to settle disputes, in order to avoid strikes, lock-outs, and other work stoppages. This process would prevent disruption of airport operations and interference in the operations of other revenue-generating businesses at the Airport.
A comprehensive approach is necessary for workers’ voices to be heard, and to address the issues stemming from understaffing, low pay and lack of training for workers employed by subcontractors to provide a host of services to passengers, including disabled and elderly passengers.
One in four Minnesotans will be 65 or older by 2030. Disabilities become more common with age, with 38 percent of those aged 75-84 reporting a disability. As the “age wave” rolls in, we must ensure that there are sufficient numbers of well-trained airport workers to provide adequate, dignified care for travelers.
In a high-turnover environment, with inadequate training, workers are put in situations where they are asked to do important tasks that require time, experience and support that they simply do not have.
As it stands, workers are put in an unenviable situation. They are paid minimum wage with no sick time or other benefits and without the Federally-required “training to proficiency,” they are placed in working conditions that are as stressful for them as they are for the passengers. Workers spoke at the MAC meeting about challenges they face every day on the job, as well as personal struggles of having to work multiple jobs, some up to 70 hours a week, just to provide for their families.
Nationwide, approximately 37 percent of families of airport cleaning and baggage workers receive Medicaid, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Food Stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or some combination. Overall, this amounts to $110 million per year in public assistance for just this one subset of underpaid airport workers. Abera Siyoum is one of these workers:
“Even though I work almost 70 hours a week—and still it’s not enough for me to pay my bills—I’m dependent on the government for food stamps and health insurance. And because that isn’t enough to cover my bills, I don’t have any time to spend with my family.”
As one of our state’s largest places of employment—including for members of our dynamic East African community—the MAC has to opportunity to strengthen the region’s economy by ensuring that airport workers are able to support their families and spend money in their communities.
The Current Staff Report Falls Short
Yet, rather than seize this opportunity, the set of recommendations currently before the subcommittee fails to achieve a comprehensive solution. Even worse, the staff memorandum on services for disabled and elderly passengers takes a defensive tone, rather than a proactive and solution-orientated approach.
The report dismisses real passengers’ experiences and cites yet a third set of statistics—demonstrating the fractured and ineffective nature of complaint-gathering in and around MSP. There are important questions to ask about the relationship between complaints registered by the MAC, by Delta, or by the Department of Transportation. For example, how many of these complaints were registered with all three entities? And how many real-world complaints were never registered officially at all?
How many passengers’ experiences mirror that of Nikki Villacicencio, who chose not to file a formal complaint when the airport worker who struggled by herself to lift her into her seat dropped her as her Delta flight was boarding at MSP? Nikki was 14 weeks pregnant at the time, and explains her skepticism behind complaint statistics this way:
“In a situation like that, sometimes you’re just so overwhelmed by it, that you can’t even think about writing it out. My husband and I are both transit advisors for the Met Council. We talk to disabled passengers all day long, and we ask, ‘Did you file a complaint,’ and they almost always say no.”
It seems unlikely that MAC staff were able to get a full picture of the issues facing passengers and workers when, by their own admission, they did not interview employees or passengers.
Front Line Workers Talk to Passengers Every Day
The front line workers who provide care to disabled and elderly passengers have a more robust picture of passengers’ experiences than the current fragmented data-gathering system. Abdi Ali works for Airserv driving a cart for senior citizens and disabled passengers, and says:
“I enjoy talking to the passengers – they become part of your family. They tell you everything, like where they going, where they live.
“They tell you about their family, if they are going to a wedding or a graduation or something. Sometimes they share with you if they are sick or have cancer, which is sad because you see the person and they tell you stuff you don’t expect and then in a few minutes they are gone.
“I want my time helping senior citizens and passengers with disabilities to be good, but it is not always that way.
“Passengers complain to us all the time. You see two cases or one case each day, of someone complaining about how the company handled their situation.”
Front Line Workers Have Direct Knowledge of How Staffing Affects Service
Air Serv cabin cleaner Asmare Meshesha says:
“We…don’t have enough equipment – I can’t change my gloves or wash my hands between cleaning the lavatory and cleaning the rest of the plane, including the galley, where food is prepared.
“Our teams are small. There used to be seven people doing my job. Now there are five. If someone is sick, then we do the job with just four people. We are expected to do that job just as well as seven people should do. That makes it harder for us and we often get injuries.
“Because of those injuries and the problems we have had, I was elected by my co-workers to serve on the safely committee.
“But I don’t think they [Airserve management] are taking it seriously. I don’t even know the responsibility we have because I’ve never got any information from the company. Theoretically, it’s safety first, but I don’t think it’s really safety first at the airport.”
As of July of this year, due to the combination of contract changes and the regular turnover churn, less than half of the Air Serv “upstairs” employees had been on the job for six months or more. These workers include cart drivers, wheelchair assistants, unaccompanied minor runners, baggage runners, skycaps and ambassadors.
Cart driver Abdi Ali explains how turnover and understaffing combine to create an unworkable situation:
“Sometimes we are short of people. Even though we are cart drivers, sometimes we have do wheelchair, and then passengers have longer to wait for a cart because they are using cart divers to do two jobs – to drive the cart and then sometimes stop and do wheelchair at the gate. So that means that someone is waiting for a cart somewhere and needs help.
“They don’t have enough staffing because of the wages they pay. I have worked at the airport for more than seven years and I have made minimum wage the whole time. I started at $6.25. The only time I have ever had a raise is when the government raised the minimum wage.
“You cannot live on minimum wage. It’s difficult – two weeks you work and your paycheck is $400 or $300, it’s not worth it. People keep quitting and they keep hiring.”
Many Job Classifications Require Specialized Training
A disabled passenger—and the passenger’s equipment—will interact with many airport workers in the course of any given trip. Baggage handlers, TSA agents, and other airport workers also need specialized training on how to handle assistive devices appropriately.
St. Paul resident Jack Strahan uses a personalized wheelchair from the VA. His chair is essential to his mobility and quality of life, and worth tens of thousands of dollars.
“Once Delta punched a hole in the back of my chair – they put it in a luggage tray. They laid it down and things shifted around – it’s way too big for a luggage tray.
“They didn’t know jack about what they were doing with the chairs. It’s a problem.
“They wanted me to get the work done [to fix the chair] and they would “reimburse you right away.” I said no, can’t afford that, can’t be done. You have to fix this right now. They knew places to take it immediately and it got done.
“I’m articulate and I don’t let anyone tell me that I can’t do that. A lot of other disabled people can’t do that. Some people have a difficult time speaking—maybe they have to use an electronic voice that’s not conducive to arguing about “we’ll pay you later.”
Cart driver Abera Siyoum has this striking example of understaffing and the importance of specialized training for a number of positions.
“I recently had to life a 270-pound passenger, but when we called for assistance, they said they didn’t have anyone to help. We lifted the passenger with the help of flight attendants.”
Fear of Flying: Complaints Don’t Count Lost Customers
If passengers have a negative experience, or expect to have a negative experience, they may avoid flying all together. Jim Lovold uses a wheel chair, and has spent the last 24 years avoiding air travel.
“The last time I flew was 24 years ago.
“In 1990, I flew from Minneapolis to Seattle. At one point, they put me on this thing, it’s hard to describe, but it looked like a dolly cart for people. I felt so insecure as I went down the hall, that I was squeezing the flight attendant’s hand so hard! I felt bad, because she was wearing a ring and I know it hurt.
“I’ve wanted to fly since then, but I’m too scared of getting on and off the plane. I have friends who have flown more recently, and their experiences have been just as bad. Everybody has horror stories.”
A Positive Vision for MSP
The MAC has the power to work with stakeholders—including seniors, disabled passengers, the airport workers who provide care to them, and airlines, including Delta—to ensure the workers who provide essential services are given the resources they need to succeed in their jobs, and to support their families and communities.
For example, the MAC might take Jack Strahan’s vision into account:
“I’m working with ADAPT to raise awareness of our needs at the airport because it’s not good enough for us to reach minimum standards – we need an airport that works for all of us.
“As people with disabilities, it’s our job to tell corporations and organizations what needs to happen so that we can access services just like able-bodied people can access services.
“I’m a strong supporter of the idea that people should get a living wage for the work that they do. That’s why I’m proud to partner not just with ADAPT, but with SEIU and the people who work at the airport to help people get a living wage for the work they do.
“So what would this airport look like?
“I would like to see an airport where, if you came in a wheelchair, well-trained agents would get you and your wheelchair to the gate, to get it packaged, ready for the airplane. We want someone who knows how to work with the different air carriers and who can work with your particular disability so that you can be put in a part of the airplane that is convenient to you, not just being thrown about.
Having those people around, having them trained, having them supported by the airport commission, and the air carriers there, would go a long way towards making the experience a better one for disabled people coming through.”
 Governor’s Workforce Development Council, “Minnesota’s Primary Care Provider Shortage,” Dec 2011, p3. Available at http://www.gwdc.org/docs/publications/Primary_Care_Report.pdf, accessed Aug 3, 2014.
 UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, “Course Correction: Reversing Wage Erosion to Restore Good Jobs at American Airports,” Miranda Dietz, Peter Hall, and Ken Jacobs, October 2013.
 Metropolitan Airports Commission, Management and Operations Committee Agenda for August 4, 2014. Item 9a, Memorandum dated July 24, 2014.
 Metropolitan Airports Commission, Management and Operations Committee Agenda for August 4, 2014. Item 9a, Memorandum dated July 24, 2014.
Millions of people fly through our country’s airports every day. But far too few of us really have any idea of the poverty wages that airport workers are paid.
Airport worker Abera Siyoum workers long hours at minimum wage in his job taking passengers with disabilities to the gate.
It’s time to shine a light on airlines that make billions in profits while the people that build their profits are paid a pittance. Watch Minneapolis St. Paul Airport worker Abera Siyoum talk about his experiences organizing to build an airport that works for everyone. Then help him spread the word by sending this video to five of your friends and colleagues.
St. Paul (October 28, 2013) — Airport workers were joined by Representative Ryan Winkler and community allies Monday to bring attention to a new report titled “BringDignity Back to MSP” highlighting the high costs of poverty wages for many workers at the airport. The report shows airlines have outsourced much of their passenger service responsibilities, including cabin cleaning, cart driving, and wheelchair services. This results in low wages, poor working conditions and inadequate staffing levels, costing taxpayers $1.7 million per year and undercutting the Metropolitan Airports Commission’s (MAC) vision of providing the “best airport experience in North America.”
The Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport (MSP) generates $10 billion a year for the Twin Cities economy and is responsible for 20,000 jobs directly tied to airport operations. These jobs have an average annual salary of $66,000, however one group of workers has been left out of this economic development. There are approximately 600 workers at MSP employed by contractors that the airlines hired to clean the insides of the planes and to provide wheelchair and cart services to their passengers. These workers are paid an average of $7.73 an hour, with many at or near minimum wage with virtually no benefits.
“I have paid my taxes, served my country in the military, and gone to college, yet here I am making $7.25 an hour,” said Darcy Landau, an employee at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. “This low wage keeps me from saving money and planning for the future. It’s not enough to cover basic necessities. If it weren’t for the VA (Veterans’ Administration), I don’t know how I would survive,” said Landau, 55, who has worked at the airport for over four years.
The combination of low wages and no health coverage means that many of the families of airport workers must rely on taxpayer-funded safety net programs in order to survive. The report estimates that $1.7 million a year is spent on public benefits because these contractors pay poverty wages. The MAC prides itself on being able to raise enough revenue that it does not require general tax support, but in the case of these passenger service workers, taxpayers are subsidizing the contractors through things such as public assistance, medical care, food stamps, and low-income housing.
Like a majority of workers across the country earning poverty wages, these airport workers are adults and for a majority this is the main source of income for themselves and their families. “We know that 137,000 children statewide would benefit from increased parental income, including many children of workers here at the airport,” said Peggy Flanagan, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota and Raise the Wage coalition co-chair, who joined the workers at the press conference. “Children who come from families with sufficient income have better outcomes with regards to their success and ability to flourish in school and later in life.”
The workers were also joined by Representative Ryan Winkler, who is the lead author of HF92, the bill that raises the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour. Winkler’s bill passed the Minnesota House of Representatives but differences with the Senate version of the legislation caused the bill to not make it out of conference committee before the end of session.
“Minnesota’s economy is strong enough to provide people the dignity of supporting their families through work, without turning to public assistance or the food shelf,” said Winkler. “That’s why I’m here to support these workers’ efforts to organize, and why, together, we are building a coalition to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2015. It’s about time we all start doing better.”
Read the full Bring Dignity Back to MSP report, written by SEIU Local 26, HERE.