Fight for $15 victory in Minnesota; airport workers choose union

Workers at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on November 14 became union members.

They joined SEIU Local 26 after a long organizing campaign that grew out of the national Fight for $15 Movement.

“This victory did not come easy, but it was worth the effort,” said Abdi Ali, a cart driver who has worked at the airport for eight years.”We are always there for each other, and now we will finally have a real voice at the airport.”

Ali and the 600 other new union members work for AirServ, a Delta Airline subcontractor. They are baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, cart drivers, wheel chair agents, and other service providers whose work is essential but whose wages are low.

Their organizing campaign began in 2013 at about the same time that low-wage workers across the US were striking and demonstrating for an increase in the national minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Airport workers in Minnesota took part in the early Fight for $15 street demonstrations. After the street actions were over, they took the fight for $15 to their jobs and began organizing a union.

AirServ workers and other low-wage Minneapolis-St. Paul airport workers demonstrated, picketed, petitioned, and testified for higher wages and better working conditions.

Their organized efforts won paid sick leave and a higher minimum wage for all airport workers. The new airport minimum wage was $10 an hour, $1 above the state’s minimum wage.

Those victories showed the power of collective action, but they fell short of the workers’ ultimate goal–a living wage and an organized voice on the job that could give them a say in determining the terms and conditions of their work.

So, the AirServ workers pressed ahead for union recognition. In June, the workers voted to strike unless the company recognized their union and took steps to improve working conditions.

The strike was averted when AirServ agreed to establish a process that would allow workers to decide whether they wanted to join a union without interference from the company.

But details about how workers would make this decision were left unclear.

For two months, AirServ and negotiators from Local 26 negotiated the details of a fair process.

In August, AirServ workers grew impatient and authorized another strike unless an agreement on a fair process could be reached.

Finally the union and the company agreed that the company would recognize the union if a majority of workers signed union representation cards and a neutral third-party verified the signatures.

In November after the signed authorization cards were verified, the company announced that it would recognize the union.

“I couldn’t be happier than I am today,” said Ali after hearing the news.

The union victory was especially important to Misrak Anbesse, an airplane cleaner and like most of the other AirServe workers is an immigrant from East Africa.

“Winning our union was a big step for us—and for everyone working to raise up people of color and immigrants in Minnesota,” said Anbesse.

“We’re all working together for a better life for our families,” she added.  “I know the community here in Minnesota will keep supporting us as we bargain a good contract and work to raise wages at the airport even more.”

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