Above Photo: The protest at Reagan National airport was the first involving employees from Huntleigh. (WTOP/Nick Iannelli)
WASHINGTON — Hundreds of contracted airport service workers walked off the job Wednesday morning at Dulles International and Reagan National airports, speaking out against their employer and demanding to be paid a minimum of $15 an hour.
“They’re on strike today to demand higher standards,” said protest organizer Jaime Contreras, vice president of Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ.
“This is something that is very hard for them to do, but they’ve had enough.”
The employees, including baggage handlers and wheelchair attendants, are with Huntleigh USA Corporation, a contractor that does business directly with airlines.
It has around 400 workers at the two airports.
Organizers of the demonstration said the employees often have to work two or three jobs to support their families and earn as little as $6.15 an hour plus tips.
“We’re here today to make sure these workers get what they deserve which is a higher wage and respect and dignity on the job,” Contreras said.
It was not the first time contracted airport service workers in the D.C. area walked off the job. Employees at Reagan National went on strike in late March as part of a nationwide protest involving people who do various jobs including cleaning airplanes, checking and hauling bags and assisting passengers who have disabilities.
Tuesday’s protest was the first involving employees from Huntleigh, and it marked the first time that contracted airport workers from Dulles International agreed to strike.
“We work very hard to ensure that travelers have a safe and clean airport, but we are ready to go on strike to ensure we can provide for our families,” said Aynalem Lale, a wheelchair dispatcher at Dulles.
“If I made $15 an hour, I wouldn’t have to work two jobs and would not have to sleep at the airport between jobs.”
Travelers should not notice any difference in operations.
“There has been no adverse impact on airport passengers or flights at Reagan National and Dulles International Airports. We expect normal airport operations during the peaceful protest,” said Rob Yingling, a spokesman for the airports.
Protesters also planned to attend a Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority board of directors meeting to ask for a new rule, requiring airline contractors such as Huntleigh to pay workers $15 an hour.