Across the country, contract airport workers tell CEOs: Low pay and poor benefits won’t fly 


March 31, 2022

Mohamed Osman, a wheelchair agent at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, works seven days a week, sometimes from 4 a.m. to 3 p.m. His job is demanding – occasionally he walks nearly 12 miles a day. 

But Mohamed, a Sudanese immigrant and father of four, is paid such low wages he is barely able to support his family. He depends on tips from generous passengers to help get by, but there is no guarantee how much – if any – he will receive in tips each shift. 

Mohamed has been on the job for nearly 20 years now, helping disabled and elderly passengers make their flights and get where they need to go. He has little to show for it. If Mohamed belonged to a union at DFW, he and his coworkers would have a stronger voice to fight for good-paying jobs, jobs that would allow them the security of knowing they would have enough money to pay for food and the other necessities in life. 

This week, contracted airport workers and their allies held a national day of action at 22 of the nation’s busiest airports, including DFW, where they are pushing for recognition of a union. They are demanding good jobs that pay a living wage, provide vital benefits, and have a voice on the job through a union. The workers represent baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, janitorial workers, wheelchair assistants, and others. 

At the same time as the national day of action, SEIU, which helped organize the protests along with Airport Workers United, released new data showing that, on average, Black, Latino, and API contracted airport workers make up to 40 percent less than their White peers. 

“I assist disabled, elderly, and other passengers who need help getting through the airport to their plane,” said Omar Hussein, a wheelchair attendant at DFW. “I’m only paid $12 an hour. I work a lot of hours and some days I work so late that I just sleep over at the airport. I can’t afford a car, rent, and to send money home to my family in Sudan. I like working with passengers, but I’m so tired all the time. That won’t fly any longer. Now, airport workers like me are fed up and taking action to demand that all airport jobs must be good union jobs that pay enough to support our families.” 

SEIU’s new data reveal that contracted airport service workers are 64 percent people of color and make substantially less – 42 percent less on average – than air transportation industry workers overall. The disparities are egregious. Black contracted airport service workers make 40 percent less on average than their White counterparts in the same category, about $18,000 less annually. Latino contracted airport service workers make 35 percent less on average than their White co-workers, about $16,000 less annually. 

SEIU maintains that for decades, as airlines have consolidated into larger corporations, they have squeezed workers by contracting out essential jobs to a broad array of smaller companies in an attempt to dodge accountability for the workers who keep their systems running. At the same time, SEIU says, airlines have accepted billions in public dollars and operate out of airports that receive public funds – all while decreasing the quality of service for travelers across the country. 

Contract airport workers are calling on the CEOs of American Airlines, Delta, and United to sign the “Good Airports Pledge,” committing to take responsibility for all workers, including contractors, throughout their networks and ensuring good jobs, benefits and union rights for all. They’re asking the CEOs to ensure that all who work at an airport, despite one’s race, background, or role, have jobs that pay a living wage, provide affordable health care, and ensure a voice on the job. 

“Amid a national reckoning and wave of workers exercising their power, airport workers are building on years of organizing and asserting themselves as the newest force in the surging labor movement,” said Mary Kay Henry, SEIU International President. “They’re standing up to airline CEOs, raising their voices to demand respect, protections and pay that they can raise a family on. They’re fed up with a system where Black and Brown workers make tens of thousands of dollars less than their White peers, and they’re taking action.” 

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