Airport workers went on strike Wednesday evening and into this morning, demanding $15 an hour and medical benefits. At seven major U.S. airports, thousands of workers walked away from their job and went to the picket line, according to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Affected by the worker strike are some of the busiest airports in the nation. Airports in Newark, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, as well as John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia in New York City, saw picket lines forming early Wednesday night.
Involving mostly cabin and airport cleaners, it is unclear exactly how many workers are participating in the walkout. However, in Ft. Lauderdale, baggage handlers, ramp workers, wheelchair attendants, and janitors joined in the strike.
The SEIU, which represents about two million workers, organized the strike and wants to unionize the airport workers. The stoppage was planned after the SEIU met with workers last month in Washington to discuss work conditions.
“The workers have a right to get together under federal law and fight for better working conditions,” said Marc Goumbri of the SEIU.
As of Thursday morning, the SEIU said they weren’t sure how the airport operations will be affected by the worker strike. The airlines, on the other hand, maintain confidence that business will go on as usual.
“We did not see an impact to our normal operations. We are ensuring our vendors have contingency plans in place to continue to serve our customers,” United Airlines told CNN Money.
Another airline, Jet Blue, said, “We are working with our business partners to ensure staffing is in place so that operations are not disrupted.”
The striking workers are not employed by the airport or airline directly. They are subcontracted by outside companies, like Roma and Ultimate Aircraft, to provide services for the different airlines.
Workers are demanding new contracts that will increase their hourly wage and provide medical benefits. According to the union, some airport workers make as little as $6.75 an hour.
At New York City airports, wages for workers were raised to $10.10 an hour last year. However, many are contending this still isn’t enough.
Jean Timmer, cabin cleaner for Ultimate Aircraft, works the overnight shift. He told CNN Money that trying to support himself and his daughter on such a low salary, without medical benefits, has been a struggle.
“It’s not enough to support our families. Safety concerns are a really big deal, and if we get injured, who’s going to pay for that — we are.”
Timmer went on to say that working at JFK opens the door for advancement opportunities, but the current working conditions are “unbearable.” He stressed that companies need to realize how important the workers are to the success of their business.
The airport workers strike is part of a bigger movement to increase the minimum wage to $15 nationwide. Although some states and cities have implemented a higher wage, the idea has not received widespread support, especially among businesses and politicians.
According to the Washington Post, many airport workers and Congress members will be attending a news conference in Washington D.C. to endorse a $15 an hour wage. Demonstrations in support will be held at other U.S. airports as well.
As reported last week by the Inquisitr, the Million Student March rallied college students across the nation to demand free tuition, elimination of student debt, and a higher minimum wage for campus workers.
Just two days after thousands of fast-food workers went on strike demanding $15 an hour, organizers behind the Million Student March encouraged students as well as politicians to take action.
The airlines have experienced these types of walkouts in the past, usually with little effect on operations. However, services such as wheelchair assistance and bag handling can be impacted. To keep things running smoothly, the airlines bring in additional people to handle the tasks while the usual airport workers are on strike.
[Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]