Select PHL airport workers strike for money and respect

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 Airport workers take to the picket lines at Philadelphia International Airport. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Airport workers take to the picket lines at Philadelphia International Airport. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Wednesday night, contracted workers at Philadelphia International Airport walked off the job for another single-day strike.

They’re demanding better wages and more respect as part of a national day of action at airports.

The workers picketed between terminals B and C at the airport, wearing Service Employees International Union T-shirts and chanting familiar union slogans, even though they are not represented by any union.  

They are the people who handle bags at curbside, clean aircraft and handle wheelchair assistance among other tasks.

Baggage handler Christopher Vega is making the $12 an hour as mandated by the Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, City Council and a new contract for the airport.  

The problem is management doesn’t show respect, he said.

“We will come in, and we are supposed to wear black shoes,  that’s fine,” Vega said. But it can become a problem when “it will have white or something in it, we will have to go home.”  He said he objects to the attitude management has toward him.

Iseilious Jones, who said his job pushing wheelchairs is difficult, said he deserves to be paid more than $11 an hour plus tips.

“It’s rough, we have passengers who can’t really walk, so sometimes we have to lift them,” he said. “They’ll be 300 to 400 to 600 pounds.”

The employees are now pressing for $15 per hour.

City Councilman Curtis Jones said a fair wage means workers will not be possibly tempted by terrorists.  

“A living wage not only is good for the economy, it’s good for security,” he said. “We’re talking about sensitive areas here at the airport, that has value.”

The strike is not preventing flights from leaving on time.  The airport contractors who employ these workers did not reply to requests for comment about the strike.

Some airport workers are also off the job in New York, Newark, New Jersey, Boston, Chicago and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood, Florida.

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