Virus Outbreak-Philadelphia Airport

Wheelchair assistants from left, Jose Burgos, Tasha Gordon, and Ms. O. McKnight sit among chairs idle from lack of passengers at Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Thursday, March 19, 2020. A labor union says hundreds of contract workers at Philadelphia International Airport are getting laid off as flight cancellations soar because of the spreading coronavirus. — AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Mayor Jim Kenney and other elected officials are demanding that Congress include contracted airport workers in the federal airline bailout.

The airline industry is seeking $50 billion in federal aid as it grapples with a major decline in worldwide travel due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are writing to urge that any economic relief must act to put the health, safety, and financial well-being of American workers first in their efforts to address the COVID-19 crisis, this must include the wellbeing of the estimated 125,000 subcontracted service workers at our nation’s airports and their families,” the elected officials wrote in a letter addressed to U.S. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“The airline industry is calling for over $50 billion in assistance, yet the four biggest U.S. carriers in the last five years spent 80% of the amount on share buybacks. During this period the industry has actively fought subcontracted airport workers’ efforts to win living wages, sick days, and health care. We cannot simply write the airline industry a blank check.”

“Any economic relief to the airline industry must also protect and invest in the employees of their contractors whose health and livelihood is on the line,” the letter continued.

The politicians’ demands come as hundreds of Philadelphia International Airport contracted workers represented by 32BJ Service Employees International Union (SEIU) were recently laid off. The service workers are baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, skycaps, wheelchair attendants, line queue workers and security officers who are on the front lines of the airport’s operations.

Gabe Morgan, vice president of 32BJ SEIU for Pennsylvania and Delaware, says it makes sense for mayors to advocate on behalf of contracted airport workers.

“The way those mayors look at it, they view an airport as a source of jobs for the city. Mayors care about it from the perspective of people from their city having work,” he said.

“I think their perspective is saying that if you’re going to save this industry, which you should, you have to remember that a huge chunk of the folks that work (for airports) are not direct employees of the airlines and that it is important that those folks’ jobs be saved as well. Having mayors chime in on that is really important and I think it sends a really strong message.”

“It makes perfect economic sense for the city to say, 'When you are looking at the federal stimulus package, don’t forget how important these other jobs are and don’t forget how important low-wage jobs are,'” Morgan said.

Kenney, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, and more than 30 other elected officials signed off on the letter.

“In this unprecedented time, Congress should do all it can to protect the economic health of the nation, but it is critical that contracted airport workers who are exposed to millions of passengers have full access to emergency relief like layoff protection, paid sick leave, and affordable health care,” the letter continued.

“Unfortunately, the law Congress recently passed to provide some emergency sick days will exclude the majority of contracted airport workers, because it exempts companies with more than 500 employees. We must ensure that no taxpayer dollars go to the airline industry without essential protections for airport workers.”

215-893-5747; ajones@phillytrib.com

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