Orlando International Airport workers head off the busiest travel season at MCO | news | Orlando

Orlando International Airport workers head off the busiest travel season at MCO |  news |  Orlando

For the second time in three years, contract workers at Orlando International Airport have pulled out a one-day strike to protest staff shortages, low wages and intimidation about union organizing at one of the country’s busiest airports.

Last week’s strike, a week before Thanksgiving, was part of a national action week organized by workers with the 32 BJ Service Employees International, the nation’s largest real estate service association, representing 175,000 members in 12 states.

Nearly 100 airport workers, union members, officially walked out Thursday morning. They held a media conference at noon and organized a second demonstration in the afternoon to draw attention to their demands for safe working conditions, fair wages, and the right to organize without intimidation by employers.

Jane Sperka, a wheelchair, said, “We’re overworked and underpaid. We need a real change so we can all have a better quality of life. It’s hard to get $7.98 an hour, and I’ve had injuries on the job.” An assistant was hired at MCO through Baggage Airlines Guest Services Inc. , according to a tweet from the union.

Despite a 57.7% drop in traffic last year, Orlando International Airport still ranks as the eighth busiest airport in the United States, and a gateway to vacation destinations like Disney World, the so-called “happiest place on earth” – a A record number, she recently raised her base wage to $15 for workers because of the pressure that organized workers have put in over the years.

Orlando International (also known by its airport code, MCO, a surviving base from its days as McCoy Air Base) consistently ranks among the 10 busiest airports in the United States of all time, the union says. , and make poverty wages. Some are getting paid the new Florida minimum wage of $10 an hour.

For tipsy workers like Spirka, a wheelchair assistant, it can be even less. MCO Wheelchair Assistants – who work for Baggage Airlines Guest Services Inc. Contracted with American Airlines and Frontier – earn $7.98 per hour.

“The airline industry, which received $54 billion to save its beloved through the CARES Act, has been criticized for record delays, cancellations, mass layoffs and labor shortages,” the union wrote in a press release. “Meanwhile, many airlines and their contractors, such as BAGS, are putting pressure on their workers and refusing to make airport jobs more competitive by offering living wages and even simple benefits like paid sick leave.”

Wheelchair assistants are paid as tip employees, despite the fact that tips from passengers are unreliable. In addition, people who use MCO wheelchair services often have disabilities and live on a stable income. This reliance on tips places the responsibility of workers receiving a living wage on the passengers, rather than the employers.

Orlando International Airport has received more than $170 million in federal COVID-19 relief aid, the state’s second largest airport rescue plan, to help address the transportation hub’s weather difficulties posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, including staff retention.

But no one has felt the stress of COVID-19 at airports more than the airport workers themselves. According to a SEIU survey of MCO wheelchair midwives, 42% of wheelchair attendants say they rely on general assistance, such as food stamps, just to survive. 17 percent reported chronic, debilitating pain, and 10 percent reported workplace injuries, according to the SEIU press release.

“We love our work, but we are exhausted both physically and mentally,” Anjanet Reyes, a State Department worker, said Thursday.

Reyes sets a minimum wage and does not receive health care benefits, leave or sick pay. Earlier this year, she sustained an injury while trying to lift a passenger from his wheelchair. Then she was discharged sick for a month without pay.

“This made me back out of paying the bills,” she said. With the cost of living in Orlando soaring, earning the minimum wage full-time — not to mention working an entire month without pay — isn’t enough to bring it down. “We don’t need to go through this,” Reyes said. “This is America, and America is supposed to be there for all of us.”

Support from local

Local religious leaders and elected officials also appeared Thursday, either in person or online, to share statements of support in solidarity with workers.

Orlando Representative Anna Escamani, celebrity for Florida House, shared her story to demonstrate her commitment to labor causes. “My parents worked multiple jobs to make ends meet,” Eskamani said Thursday. “And we always struggled to get by. The only fight my parents had was about money. It’s not good.” She said fair wages for workers are a societal issue. “I will never be ashamed to fight a hard battle. Especially, full disclosure, with the people who keep this country, state, and this city running.”

U.S. Representative Darren Soto, currently in Washington, D.C., shared a video and statement online. “It’s time to make sure our airport guest service staff are treated with dignity and respect, are paid a living wage, and can raise a family and achieve the American Dream.”

The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, which operates the Orlando airport, shared the following comment with Orlando Weekly On Thursday’s strike: “Let me make it clear that these workers are private company workers with the airline[s]. “They were never employed by the authority,” said Caroline Fennell, senior director of public affairs. OW. “We certainly regret any time there is a concern with any airport employee,” she added.

BAGS Inc. has Invalid email listed online for their PR department. Orlando Weekly called BAGS Inc. to request a comment. As of publication, OW Did not receive a response.

Broken system for workers

As I mentioned Creative Loving Tampa Bay Last week during the Tampa airport strike, the airline industry increasingly relied on contractors such as BAGS Inc. To provide essential services such as wheelchair push-ups, baggage handling, and non-TSA security. According to the union, these contractors, at the workers’ expense, are “competing hard with each other to see who will win the lowest bidding contract.” What this often leads, they say, is little or no benefits for workers and “lower wages”.

Wheelchair workers at Miami International Airport are paid $17 an hour, according to a worker who spoke Thursday. BAGS employees at Orlando International can make less than half of that. SP Plus, a publicly traded company that acquired BAGS Inc. In 2018, it generated total profit of $46 million for the third quarter of 2021.

The 32BJ SEIU labor union has, for years, campaigned to support the Florida airport workers’ fight for respect and justice. But local policies, state laws take precedence, and anti-union laws at the state and federal levels make it difficult for workers to form unions and win good contracts.

Workers frequently encounter intimidation tactics by employers to join unions—a fact Gabe Ocasio-Megas, a Starbucks barista at Orlando International who works through HMSHost, knows all too well. Meijas was fired over a year ago from his MCO job over what, eventually, the National Labor Relations Board decided to be an act of revenge for his organization.

As a result of the NLRB’s decision, Meijas was recently able to get his job back. “I stand here in solidarity with each and every one of you,” Megas said Thursday. He said his union, Unite Here, has the votes they need in the MCO to apply for union elections — which requires showing the interest of at least 30% (ideally closer to 50%) of eligible workers. “We will have a union,” he stressed Thursday. “We will make sure that the MCO will be fully regulated.”

The Orlando strike was one of several actions organized last week by 32BJ SEIU, which won local living wage standards, benefits and union recognition for 32,000 airport workers nationwide.

“Airport workers across the country are asking airlines and their contractors to commit to making airport jobs good jobs by paying their employees what they are entitled to and offering basic benefits such as paid sick leave and healthcare,” the union said. “If airlines don’t step up and make air travel reliable again, there needs to be oversight and accountability at the national level, including fair wages and benefits for airport workers – so our airports are staffed with well-trained people who have what they need to thrive, not just survive. Alive “.

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