On Wednesday morning, contracted workers at Reagan National and Dulles International Airports will be available for interviews when the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority (MWAA) votes on a new policy that would increase workers’ hourly wages from $12.75 to $15 by 2023. Over 8,000 contracted baggage handlers, wheelchair attendants, lobby agents, skycaps, cabin cleaners, airport concessions and airline catering workers are part of the National Fight for $15.
Before the first-of-a-kind MWAA policy, which passed in 2017, contracted airport workers earned as little as Virginia’s minimum wage of $7.25.
“We’ve been struggling for a long time to achieve this wage increase, it’s not a gift, we fought for it and we have unity among the workers as a union to thank,” said Tadesse Boru, a ramp ambassador at Dulles who’s the sole provider supporting six kids and his wife who’s too sick to work. “The new wages are much better and they will help me pay to see the doctor, afford a better living situation and support my children.”
“Two years ago, I was evicted from my home because I wasn’t making enough,” said Tenae Stover, an LSG Sky Chefs airline catering worker at DCA. “I’m still living with my family because I can’t afford rent. My job is hard. We’re on our feet eight hours a day and deserve to make $15 an hour. I think one job should be enough for all workers in the airline industry to be able to survive.”
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and a group of 16 Virginia Delegates sent a letter to MWAA urging board members to ensure workers reach $15 sooner rather than later.
Mayor Bowser’s letter reads: “Our airport workers are vital to trade and tourism for our region and guaranteeing safe and enjoyable travel for the more than 22 million people who visit the nation’s capital every year. It is critical that we provide at least $15 an hour wage for all of our airport workers to ensure our hardworking residents are better able to support their families and continue to strengthen our thriving local economy. Fairly compensating our airline workers is not only the right thing to do; it will benefit our region and all who use MWAA’s world-class airports”
Virginia Delegates’ letter reads: “We believe that this wage level is critical to improving public safety and to maintaining the robust economic benefits that airports provide to our state. MWAA’s current policy has already had a significant impact on decreasing employee turnover. However, turnover levels remain unacceptably high. As the cost of living in Virginia and the D.C. metro area continues to rise, a wage increase policy that does not recognize the fact that these airport workers are barely surviving at the margins means that they will be left even further behind.”
Senators and presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have supported the airport workers’ fight. Among the workers’ high-profile supporters who have showed up at the airports are actor and anti-poverty activist, Danny Glover, Senators Sherrod Brown and Richard Blumenthal, DNC Chairman and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, Congressmen Gerry Connolly, Don Beyer, Anthony Brown, Rashida Tlaib, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Grace Meng, Steven Horsford, Stephen Lynch, D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and dozens of Virginia Delegates including Alfonso Lopez, Elizabeth Guzman and Jennifer Boysko.
With more than 173,000 members in 11 states, including over 20,000 in the D.C. Metropolitan Area, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country. UNITE HERE represents 45,000 employees in the airport concessions and airline catering industries at over 75 airports in the U.S. and Canada, including over 1,000 workers at Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport.