Above Photo: (Gary Hershorn/Getty Images)
On Tuesday, October 2, employee demonstrations organized by the Airport Workers United campaign will take place at over 40 airports in 13 countries. The demonstrations are intended to mobilize wheelchair attendants, baggage handlers and other laborers who perform low-skilled jobs at airports to demand higher pay and better working conditions. Protests will be held in Baltimore, Seattle, Los Angeles, Newark, Boston and airports across Europe. Combined, 36 percent of all air travel passes through the affected airports.
The group behind the Airport Workers United campaign is the Service Employees International Union(SEIU). The SEIU has over two million members worldwide and is a heavy-hitter when it comes to funding Democrats, shelling out $1.4 million to congressional candidates in the 2016 election cycle and $780,346 in the 2018 cycle according to data released by the FEC on Sept. 24. (The profile for the SEIU on the OpenSecrets website has not yet been updated to reflect this.) That includes $12,825 to Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) and $10,632 to Randy Bryce, a union ironworker endorsed by Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and running for the seat being vacated by Paul Ryan (R-WI). They have also spent $249,006 on lobbying this year.
The global airline industry is projected to pull in profits of $38.4 billion in 2018, but some working in airports say they are still struggling to pay their bills. Almost 30 percent of American airport workers rely on some kind of public assistance. Meanwhile, a report by the UC Berkeley Labor Center shows a correlation between airport employees’ job performance and their pay rate.
Many of those struggling hardest actually work for companies subcontracted by airlines to do jobs like security, janitorial work and working as wheelchair agents. More than 80 percent of baggage handling jobs were subcontracted as of 2012.
Some of the subcontractors working for United Airlines lack union representation. When contacted by OpenSecrets regarding the October 2 demonstrations, United stressed their commitment to treating employees fairly, as well as “providing them with competitive compensation and industry-leading benefits and privileges and creating a safe, supportive work environment, whether or not they are represented by a union.”
United is also a formidable force in Washington. They are represented by 24 lobbyists, including former Congressman Tom Reynolds, and spent $2.6 million on lobbying through June of this year. In 2017, they spent more than $3.5 million. United has been accused of discouraging the formation of unions in the past.
Both United and American Airlines are members of Airlines for America, an advocacy group which recently clashed with SEIU over a “labor peace” ordinance in Chicago. In 2018, Airlines for America has spent $3.3 million on lobbying federal agencies. In 2017, they spent nearly $8.6 million on lobbying, and 51 of the 56 lobbyists representing them that year were “revolving door” lobbyists who had held jobs in the federal government.