BWI Contract Employees: Airline Bailout Should Protect Workers

    As the airline industry angles for a $50 billion bailout from the federal government, the union representing contract employees at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport are using the workers’ personal stories to press for protections for those employed by airlines and associated industries.

    According to the Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, 78 contract workers at BWI have already been laid off — even though leaders in the airline industry assert they are seeking a government bailout to prevent layoffs. The union represents baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, wheelchair attendants, and others at BWI.

    The union maintains the bailout proposal from the airlines contains no provisions to protect contract workers who are most at risk by the downtown in the industry caused by the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak.

    “It’s not just corporations that need support, it’s contracted workers who are actually the ones on the front lines and lack both health and financial protections,” said Jaime Contreras, vice president of 32BJ SEIU. “There’s no reason basic protections for contracted airport workers shouldn’t be included and we are going to keep pushing for that.”

    To buttress its argument, the union is telling the stories of four BWI workers who have been laid off since the spread of the virus: Daijah Green, who was laid off from her job cleaning the inside of airplanes at the airport for Menzies Aviation; Alemayehu Semu, who was laid off from his job as a skycap; Donny Leonard was laid off from him job as a fueler for Menzies Aviation; and Ronaldo Dingzon, who was laid off from his job as a skycap.

    For each, the union has provided a vignette about the worker’s dire economic circumstances.

    “How am I supposed to afford food for my daughter, or pay my bills?” Green wondered. “If I can’t pay for my phone bill or transportation, how can I find another job? I am anxious about the future and find myself looking for something productive to do with my time, but I’m stuck in the house with no answers. There are going to be even less jobs after all this and I feel so bad thinking about how we are all going to feed our children.”

    Contreras said, “In this unprecedented time, Congress should do all it can to protect the economic health of the nation, but it is critical that contracted airport workers who come into close contact with millions of passengers every day have full access to emergency relief like layoff protection, paid sick leave, and affordable health care.”

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    Josh Kurtz
    Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.