Outrage as Airport Workers Experience Massive Layoffs, While Airlines Ask Taxpayers for $60 Billion Bailout

Public Increasingly Calls on Congress to Support Working People, not Multi-Billion Dollar Corporations

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, March 20, 2020
Contact: Leslie Mendoza Kamstra, leslie.kamstra@seiu.org, 317.397.1585

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Working people and elected officials from coast to coast are outraged that contractors for major airlines are laying off thousands of front-line contracted airport workers while they lobby for a nearly $60-billion taxpayer bailout—again. The airline’s bailout request came with assurances that they would “preserve and protect” jobs, but today thousands of contracted airport workers are facing layoffs with many more expected.

“Multi-billion-dollar airlines are demanding multi-billion-dollar bailouts as thousands of hard-working people who keep the airlines running are laid off,” says Mary Kay Henry, President of SEIU. “Let me be clear: our elected representatives should not be giving no-strings-attached financial support to airlines or any corporation. Working Americans across the service and care sectors have put in work that's generated billions in profits. During this crisis, airlines and other large companies have to take some responsibility to help their workers' families make it through this crisis."

The airline industry lobbying group Airlines for America, funded by United, American, Delta, and Southwest Airlines, has said they want to “secure financial assistance from the federal government to protect and preserve the 750,000 jobs of hardworking men and women who are directly employed by U.S. airlines, as well the 10 million jobs supported by the airline industry,” yet they are leaving out 30% of the workforce that makes global air travel possible—contracted airport workers.

"If they are bailing out the airlines, they have to be bailing out the workers," says Luerica Fiffee, a passenger service representative at JFK who was laid off yesterday and a 33-year-old mother of seven children. "How am I going to manage? That I’m not quite sure of yet. Literally, no one is hiring. There’s nothing you can do except hope and pray that something gets better."

Contracted airport workers are on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis. They come into contact with millions of travelers every day and play a critical role in keeping people safe, but those same people are struggling on low pay and without paid sick days or health care—and now thousands are facing layoffs. Airline contractors have announced mass layoffs at airports in Boston, Washington D.C, New York, Newark, Miami, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston and more.

“Cabin cleaners, wheelchair attendants, baggage handlers, and other contracted airport workers have risked their own health to keep our airports running during this global pandemic,” says Rob Hill, Vice President of SEIU 32BJ, “Now, airlines are leaving them behind. The airline industry needs to honor their commitment to protect all airport jobs. If Congress is going to bail out airlines, working people need to be at the center of it.”

The legislation President Trump signed that grants paid sick leave to workers does not apply to this workforce because they are employed by companies with 500 or more employees—and those companies are exempt. Contracted airport workers are calling on Congress to support paid sick days, affordable health care, and essential layoff protections for tens of thousands of airport workers who keep our airports running every day.

“I help passengers with disabilities move through the airport,” says Jerome Perry, a wheelchair agent for an American Airlines contractor at San Jose International Airport. “I am facing layoff. If that were to happen, unemployment would barely cover my rent. If I can't find something part-time, I don't know what I would do. Right now with this virus going around everything is closing up and it will be almost impossible to find something. I was homeless before, and that's what I would be facing if I can't find another job. I don't want to be homeless again.”

Over the years, airlines have perfected a system of low-bid contracting to boost their bottom line and squeeze every penny out of workers, taxpayers, and passengers in the form of new tax-exempt fees. Airlines increased outsourced jobs from 19% in 2001 to 30% in 2018 which resulted in some outsourced workers being paid less for doing the same job. For baggage handlers, airlines eliminated or outsourced over 96% of jobs and cut wages in half—from $27.18 in 2002 to $12.79 in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Contracted airport workers around the country are coming together in Airport Workers United to raise their voices for fair wages and union rights. By sticking together, speaking out, and going on strike 32,000 airport workers have joined SEIU and 155,000 have won raises or other improvements, including healthcare, paid sick leave, and job protections.