A group of low-wage airport workers walked off the job at Philadelphia International Airport Tuesday in a brief preview of a strike planned for the Democratic National Convention.
Nearly 1,000 members of 32BJ SEIU rallied outside the airport in support of baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, line queues and wheelchair attendants employed by subcontractors at the airport in a protest for a $15 minimum wage and the right to unionize.
“Today was a look at what’s to come next week. We still plan on striking if we have to,” Alfred Williams, a baggage handler with subcontractor PrimeFlight, said in a statement. “We won’t back down even as our employers threaten, bribe and intimidate us.”
Many employees of subcontractors at the airport, primarily Prospect and Primeflight, have been fighting for higher wages and to get union representation by 32BJ SEIU. Members voted last week to strike for higher wages during the Democratic National Convention (DNC), running July 25-28.
With more than 20,000 people expected to arrive in the city for the convention, including thousands of Democratic delegates and protesters, a strike by airport workers could cause major disruptions as they try to return home.
“Without these workers, the DNC and every other major event would not be possible. The first thing the Democrats should see when they arrive shouldn’t be Philadelphia’s largest sweatshop,” 32BJ SEIU organizer Gabe Morgan said in a statement.
32BJ members said that their employers had begun offering workers bonuses and an hourly wage of $24 to not strike during the DNC, which 32BJ called “an obvious ploy to head off a strike” in a press release.
“These subcontractors cannot bribe their workers into silence,” Morgan said.
Airport workers, who earn about $12 an hour, said they fully intend to carry through with the strike next week.
Representatives for both the airport and American Airlines told the Inquirer that a strike won't disrupt customer service.