Striking Airline Service Workers Return To Work At LAX

LOS ANGELES —

Workers who provide "curb to cabin" services for major airlines at Los Angeles International Airport returned to their jobs Friday, one day after they went on strike over issues of wages, benefits and allegedly unfair labor practices.

The return to work is part of a three-week "cooling off" period negotiated by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The agreement, which went into effect at 8 a.m., also calls for union leaders to resume negotiations with contractors.

As a result of the "cooling off" agreement, there are no plans to picket the airport for the next three weeks, said Mike Chavez, a spokesman for Local 1877 of the Service Employees International Union.

Earlier Friday morning, Chavez said in a statement that the strike would be going into a second day Friday and that job action would be expanding, with picketing taking place outside every terminal at LAX.

"In these difficult economic times for the airline industry and for hard-working Angelenos at the airport, we must come together to find a solution that meets the needs of workers and the airline industry," Villaraigosa said.

"I am urging the workers and contractors, with the support of the airlines, to come to a fair agreement that ensures quality services and keeps passengers moving safely and efficiently at the international gateway to Southern California," Villaraigosa said.

Chavez said employees immediately went back to work. The agreement was reached late Thursday night and early Friday morning. There was "intense calling really early this morning," he said.

The union had announced plans to picket outside LAX all day, but those plans were scrapped when the agreement was reached, Chavez said.

A statement from the mayor's office said Villaraigosa brokered the "cooling off" period. A representative was not available to say when the deal was reached. Villaraigosa was in Denver on Thursday for the Democratic National Convention, and it was not immediately clear whether he had returned to Los Angeles.

A bargaining session Thursday morning between the union and the companies that employ the workers failed to produce agreement on a new contract, prompting the decision to strike, said SEIU Local 1877, which represents about 2,500 airline service workers at LAX.

The workers, who earn about $10 an hour, are not employed by the airlines, but by sub-contractors Aero Port Services, Air Serv, American Building Maintenance, Aviation Safeguards, Lee's Maintenance, One Source, Service Performance, World Service and G2 Secure Staff.

The workers provide "curb to cabin" services at LAX, including baggage handling, wheelchair assistance and airplane cleaning. They are seeking higher wages, affordable health care, and are specifically targeting Air Serv, Aviation Safeguards, Aero Port Services. Contracts with the other six companies have not yet expired.

Union officials said the companies have refused to make a contract offer that included improvements in training or wage and benefit increases despite months of negotiations and the presence of a federal mediator at this week's talks. A SEIU Local 1877 spokesman also said employees were unfairly targeted for their union support.

But Joe Conlon, regional vice president of Aviation Safeguards, said a walkout by union negotiators Thursday was unexpected.

"We have been in contract negotiations for over a month with the SEIU. We were surprised ... when they ended negotiations and advised us they were calling a strike. We will continue to negotiate to reach an agreement when the SEIU is interested in talking," Conlon said.

An estimated 825,000 passengers will arrive and depart on flights at LAX over the four-day Labor Day weekend. An airport representative said passengers should arrive at the airport at least two hours before their flight takes off.

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