Union workers at Los Angeles International Airport marched a six-foot-tall birthday cake through the terminals at the airport as a part of a rally to demand good union jobs, living wages and healthcare.
Hundreds of union workers gathered near curbside check-in at Terminal 1 Wednesday to call on airlines such as Southwest and American to stop undermining worker standards by “switching good union jobs to irresponsible contractors,” like S.A.S. Services Group and JetStream, according to Andrew Hagelshaw of Service Employees International Union-United Service Workers West.
The workers marched the giant cake throughout the terminals at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Hageslshaw said using the cake as a symbol was very significant to the workers.
“Southwest Airlines recently celebrated their birthday and the $2.5 billion in profits they made last year,” Hagelshaw said. “But their contracted workers were not invited to the party. So we’re having our own Fourth of July party to celebrate the nation’s birthday and telling airlines like Southwest and American to support good union jobs and maintain high standards for airport workers so they can support their families instead of struggling to survive.”
Another important issue for the SEIU workers is health care and the costs of health insurance.
“When Southwest Airlines switched our work from a union contractor to a non-union contractor called S.A.S., I lost most of my health insurance,” LAX passenger service employee Maria Romero said. “Now I can’t afford to get new glasses, which makes it more difficult for me to monitor security cameras.”
Romero said because of the change, her work hours have been reduced and she lost her seniority rights.
Barbara Gomez works as a cabin cleaner for American Airlines and said the airline’s decision to use non-union contractor Jet Stream has been “horrible.”
“My former union employer used to have a high lift truck that would allow cleaners to get our carts right outside the cabin door,” Gomez said. “JetStream requires us to walk from plane to plane all night dragging our carts and climb stairs up to the planes with our heavy supplies.”
She said workers get soaked when it rains because Jet Stream does not provide rain gear to its employees.
The union claimed its members and other contracted airport workers help make soaring profits for the global airline industry “while struggling to make ends meet on low wages and often without benefits of paid days off.”
S.A.S. Service Group’s Chief Administrative Officer Dan Coerber told City News Service the company had no idea this protest march was planned for Wednesday. Coerber also disputed some of the claims made by SEIU.
“We follow the City of L.A.’s Living Wage Ordinance and we also pay our workers an added health benefit payment on an hourly basis,” Coerber said.
Coerber said that as of July 1 the total hourly wage for workers will be over $20 per hour when you include the $5.34 health benefit being paid. Coerber also said the company has negotiated a group contract with Kaiser Permanente so S.A.S. workers can join for a reduced rate under the company’s plan.
“We manage 14 airport locations,” Coerber said. “And there’s never been an effort by our employees to organize themselves into a union. However, they are certainly free to do that and SEIU is free to do that. We have no problem with that and it will not change the way we treat our employees. They will be treated just as well as they are today if they unionize.”
Hagelshaw responded to Coerber’s comments by first saying he was glad the company would have no problem if their workers decide to unionize.
“And yes, they do follow the city’s Living Wage Ordinance but that’s the minimum they have to do,” Hagelshaw said.
“I can tell you this that these workers don’t feel they have the same voice as they did when a union contractor was handling these operations,” Hagelshaw continued. “And they are conscious that they can be fired anytime for any reason because they are working for a non-union company and don’t have a union to back them up.
Hagelshaw also said the protest march included SEIU members and some workers from S.A.S. Service Group and Jetstream.
No one from Jetstream could be reached for immediate comment.