Calling for increased wages and health benefits, as well as improved job standards, a union representing passenger service workers at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) has voted to authorize a strike.

Workers represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 1877, including skycaps, baggage handlers, wheelchair attendants and security guards, said they voted overwhelmingly Wednesday, August 20th, for a strike because they are frustrated with declining service and security at LAX. The union represents approximately 2,500 service workers at the airport.

The service workers claim that their employers, who are contracted by airlines operating at the airport, are providing inadequate training, leading to high turnover rates and safety issues. Some employers have also threatened workers who support the union, workers claim.

“There’s been a number of unfair labor practices from the contractors who are not bargaining in good faith,” said Mike Chavez, a spokesman for Airport Workers United. “These service workers feel they need to take a stand for better quality service and better security at the airport.”

Chavez noted that there is “not a lot of stability” with the airport service workers, as low wages and lack of healthcare are leading to a turnover rate that is as high as 50 percent a year in some jobs.

“If there’s a high turnover, we won’t have the stability we need for people to do their jobs well,” he said.

Union president Mike Garcia added, “The failure of the airlines to establish professional standards among airport service work has created a race to the bottom and fuels a turnover rate rivaling that of the fast food industry.”

Most service workers at LAX earn less than $19,000 on average per year, and 97 percent of airline contracted workers are without access to affordable family healthcare, Chavez said.

The union is currently negotiating with subcontractors, including ABM, Aero Port Services, Air Serv, G2 Secure Staff, Lee’s Maintenance, Aviation Safeguards, One Source, Primeflight, Service Performance Company and World Service West. The subcontractors service airlines such as American, United and Southwest and perform a majority of security, janitorial and passenger service work at LAX.

Representatives of G2 Secure Staff and Air Serv had not returned phone calls at Argonaut press time seeking comment on the strike vote.

Chavez said the workers are calling on the airlines to request higher service standards from their contractors.

“They need to take a leadership role here and call for better standards,” he said.

Jack Kyser, chief economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, noted that a potential strike of service workers could be disruptive for LAX, causing some passengers to reconsider their travel options during the upcoming Labor Day holiday.

“If there’s a labor action at LAX, some may say ‘let’s forget it’ and go to Long Beach or somewhere else,” Kyser said.

The airlines may also be faced with a “somewhat chaotic situation” if they need to replace the service workers and won’t have time to provide adequate training, he said. In addition to a potential strike, the airlines are currently facing significant challenges such as skyrocketing fuel prices, he said.

“The whole economic model of the airline industry has been severely disrupted,” Kyser said.

Officials at Los Angeles World Airports, the city agency that operates LAX, acknowledged that any disruption of passenger service would be “punishing” to those on every side of the contract issue.

“While it is not our authority to mandate a remedy, we offer our encouragement and hope that both parties meet again soon to frame a solution that serves a common good,” airport spokeswoman Nancy Castles said.