Several hundred airport service workers, union representatives, community members and religious leaders joined together at Los Angeles International Airport May 1 to protest what they believe are unfair labor practices faced by workers contracted by airlines.
The workers, who include cabin cleaners, baggage handlers, wheel chair attendants and cargo workers, went on strike and marched with other demonstrators outside the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX to Century Boulevard. The event was part of other May Day labor protests across Los Angeles and in other cities around the nation.
Among the various concerns of LAX service workers, who are employed by companies hired by the airlines, are inadequate training and dangerous working conditions that have led some to get injured on the job. Competition amongst the contractors has lowered job quality and security standards, and many workers lack affordable health care, protesters claim.
They also argue there is a lack of whistleblower protections and claim their employers are interfering with their right to organize.
“The workers are exercising their rights to protest unlawful interference by these companies for their right to organize,” said Marx Gutierrez, a spokesman with the Service Employees International Union-United Service Workers West. “The workers feel there is very little oversight and the contractors are able to do whatever they want, creating a ‘Wild West’ atmosphere at LAX.”
The protest march came a week after City Councilmen Bill Rosendahl and Paul Koretz called on Los Angeles World Airports and the airlines to demand that their service providers improve service standards and work to ease growing labor tensions among airport employees ahead of the May 1 rally.
Rosendahl said he joined his former council colleague, Rep. Janice Hahn, at the Bradley Terminal to stand up for the airline service workers, whom he believes are “really the unsung heroes at the airport.”
“(Hahn) and I talked about getting justice for the workers, who are the glue that holds the airport together,” said Rosendahl, who represents the LAX area. “I understand the deep frustration of the airport workers.
“It’s clear to me that the conduct and practices of the airline service contractors are creating poor working conditions and causing these labor tensions. We need to address that problem now.”
Rosendahl said he was pleased that Airport Police helped ensure there was no violence or disorderly action reported during the demonstration. Airport officials announced that only two airlines reported a total of four domestic departure delays because flight crews were not able to arrive on time.
Koretz said, “The airport is crucial to our regional economy and quality of life, and we rely on the people who work there to provide many essential services that are key to any commuter. Those workers should have nothing less than safe and satisfactory working conditions; anything that places those workers at risk can also place the quality and safety of our airport experience at risk.”
The two council members have introduced a motion to the Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee for recommendations on ways to strengthen and enforce the airport’s Certified Service Provider Program. The airport implemented the program last year to improve service standards in employee relations, employee training and safety and quality of service. Rosendahl and Koretz have urged the airport to consider stronger standards for the program, such as whistleblower protections.
Airport officials issued a statement saying that LAWA has worked cooperatively and held numerous meetings with contractors and labor unions to craft a Certified Service Provider Program that is acceptable to all. The agency will continue to meet with the airlines, service providers and labor unions to create a mutually agreeable program and gain consensus for the proposed standards, airport officials said.
Joe Conlon, vice president of Aviation Safeguards, which contracts with airlines at terminals 2, 6 and Bradley, said contractors support having stronger enforcement standards but do not want to be forced to unionize.
“This is not about raising standards; this is an organizing campaign by SEIU,” Conlon said of the May 1 event. “We are all in favor of the CSPP and higher standards but we are not in favor of being told we have to unionize.”
Conlon said more than half of Aviation Safeguard’s 476 employees voted to decertify from the union in December and the company has since put more than $2 million a year in the pockets of workers, as more than 93 percent of them have received salary increases.
“Our employees are very happy,” said Conlon, adding that there is a very low turnover and work-related injuries are rare.
Gutierrez said while Aviation Safeguards came up with signatures, they never followed a formal process for workers to decertify from the union. He said the union is pleased that Rosendahl and Koretz are seeking for the contractors to increase service standards.
“They’ve taken leadership in bettering their airport and they’re not going to stand by as the contractors try to do whatever they want,” Gutierrez said.