Workers at U.S. Airports to Join First-Ever Global Day of Action in Protest of Poverty Wages Amidst Record Airlines’ Profits

As corporate executives of the world’s airlines gather in Dublin on June 1-2, 2016 for the International Air Transport Association’s annual general meeting and World Air Transport Summit, airline passengers around the world on June 1st will be met by airport workers protesting poverty wages amid a report projecting industry profits of $36 billion in 2016. Workers will engage in the first-ever airport workers global day of action to draw attention to the fact that while the airline industry is making record profits, the airport service workers who make such profits possible are being underpaid, overworked, and overlooked.

In the United States, workers will be leafleting and talking to passengers, and will hold actions involving rallies, press conferences and banner drops in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newark, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Washington, DC, Portland, Ore., and Seattle. “Airlines: $36 billion in profits, Workers: underpaid and under pressure,” will read the banner.

Photos from the events will be posted on Flickr. You are invited to use them.

“We are the backbone of the aviation industry and though our hard work is the basis of the airlines’ success, too many of us live in poverty and can barely afford to put food on the table,” said Mikeyda Samuda, a cabin cleaner for AerLingus and Jet Blue’s subcontractor, Ultimate, at JFK airport. Ms. Samuda is traveling to Dublin to join with airport workers from around the world and together, they will deliver a message to airlines executives at an action outside the IATA annual general meeting. “By standing together, we’re making it clear to the powerful CEOs that airport workers worldwide are vigilant and we will hold them accountable no matter where they operate.”

Around the globe, actions will be held at 30 major airports in countries including Ireland, Brazil, Argentina, Korea, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, Sweden and the United States. The efforts are spearheaded by a new global coalition called Airports United that is determined to secure economic justice and higher standards for airport service workers no matter where they work. The June 1st actions are designed to send a clear message to the powerful corporate executives that with record profits, there’s no excuse for airport workers anywhere in the world to live in poverty.

A new report by the London-based International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) —a global organization of 700 trade unions in 147 countries, representing nearly 4.8 million transport workers including over 650,000 aviation workers—, finds that workers in areas such as security, wheelchair assistance, fuelling, cargo and baggage handling, cabin cleaning and passenger check in face a working environment marked by stress, irregular working patterns and wage levels that are often insufficient to meet their basic living costs.

Despite unprecedented profits, the aviation industry continues to drive down wages and working standards, putting workers under increasing pressure. As a result, airports have become a locus of low-wages, exploitation, unfairness and inequality instead of economic drivers and generators of good jobs.

Airport workers worldwide are also concerned that low wages, high turnover, inadequate training and safety standards not only put them in danger but also hurt passengers by impacting security and quality of service.

In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels, U.S. airport workers went on strike and called for more workforce investment and emergency preparedness training for all airport workers worldwide. The recent terrorist attack on Brussels’ Zaventem airport and a 2013 shooting at LAX both show airport service workers—including baggage handlers, passenger service agents, wheelchair assistants, security officers and others—are the very first responders in emergencies. According to press reports, Brussels baggage handler Alphonse Lyoura pulled seven people to safety. Shortly after the LAX shooting, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti publicly acknowledged the heroic actions of LAX service workers, including one passenger service agent who made the first call to police and stayed at the site while others were fleeing.

The ITF report concludes that the decline in standards is easily preventable. Cost cutting is driving this race to the bottom, but airlines have the power to stop it and put in place a sustainable employment model, one that is capable of retaining a skilled and experienced workforce.

The airport workers’ global day of action is supported by UNI Global Union, which represents 20 million workers from over 150 countries in the skills and services sectors.