Herbert Stewart

Wheelchair assistant Herbert Stewart waited last week to aid a traveler at Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, where hundreds of contract workers were laid off due to flight cancellations linked to the coronavirus.— AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Tribune Staff Writer

Provisions for contracted airport workers have been included in a $58 billion bailout for the nation’s airlines, which are facing significant declines in worldwide travel due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The coronavirus aid package before the U.S. Senate offers $58 billion to the airlines, split between loans and payroll grants. The bailout targeted at the 750,000 airline industry workers includes $3 billion in payroll grants for airline contractors, who have laid off thousands of workers at the nation’s airports.

Hundreds of workers at the Philadelphia International Airport received layoff notices last week.

The 32BJ Service Employees International Union, which represents 12,000 workers in the Philadelphia region, is glad to see the inclusion of its members in the national bailout measure.

“Today, 125,000 contracted airport workers finally got some good news amidst weeks of stress, fear and uncertainty: Congress recognized their vital role in the airline industry and their humanity during the coronavirus crisis and explicitly included $3 billion in the bailout for the contracted workforce,” Gabe Morgan, vice president of 32BJ SEIU for Pennsylvania and Delaware, said in a statement.

The workers facing layoffs include baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, skycaps, wheelchair attendants, line queue workers and security officers.

“These workers are on the front lines of the COVID19 epidemic, keeping our airports running and cleaning terminals and planes to help reduce the virus’s spread. In the last week, thousands of airport workers have taken action to demand their inclusion in the bailout.”

Morgan said there are many details left to analyze on the airline bailout and many safeguards will be needed to ensure that airline contractors use this funding to help their workers.

“Airline contractors must do the right thing and use these resources to keep their workforce in tact so that our airports can resume quickly when this crisis is over,” he added.

“And the airlines must immediately halt the layoffs of thousands of contracted airport workers as the bailout is finalized. It would be inhumane for executives to throw contracted workers overboard just as a lifeboat appears in the distance.”

“The road ahead remains incredibly difficult but the way many members of Congress have fought tirelessly to protect the most vulnerable workers is encouraging,” Morgan said.

“The unemployment insurance expansion will help millions of workers at a time when they need it most. The layoff protection for contracted airport workers could be the difference between families going hungry and facing homelessness or holding on safely to survive along with the industry they serve,” he added. “We applaud Congress for taking a crucial first step in protecting contracted airport workers and ensuring that our airports can continue to operate after this crisis is over.”

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