Threatening to inconvenience air travelers throughout the Labor Day weekend, several hundred airline service workers — including baggage handlers, security personnel and janitors — walked off the job Thursday at Los Angeles International Airport after months of inconclusive contract talks with their employers.
Members of the Service Employees International Union Local 1877 went on strike about noon at the Tom Bradley International Terminal and other terminals serving American, United, Southwest and Northwest airlines — some of the largest at the airport.
Union officials say the number of workers participating in the action could increase through the holiday weekend, a traditionally busy time of the summer for LAX, which is expected to handle about 850,000 passengers.
As of Thursday afternoon, airline and airport officials said the strike had not disrupted operations or delayed flights, but they cautioned travelers to arrive at the airport two hours before their departures for domestic flights and three hours early for international flights.
"Everything is calm and going fine," said LAX spokesman Michael Molina. "We are anticipating no delays at the airlines."
Airline service workers are employed by private companies that contract with the airlines at LAX. Those firms provide about 5,000 janitors, skycaps, baggage handlers, aircraft cabin cleaners, security personnel and attendants for travelers with disabilities. About 2,500 of the workers are represented by the SEIU's airport division, the union said.
SEIU officials say the workers, who make an average of $10.50 an hour and do not receive benefits, are asking for health insurance and an increase in their hourly wage of 40 to 50 cents. Employers have made no concessions and have bargained in bad faith since contract talks began in early July, union officials say.
"No one wants to have to strike, but they have given us no other choice," said Jose Hernandez, a wheelchair assistant with Aero Port Services and a member of SEIU's bargaining committee. "We're proud to take care of the passengers who need it most, but we also need to be able to take care of our families."
The strike began after a negotiating session Thursday in which both sides failed to make progress toward an agreement. SEIU officials said G2 Secure Staff, Air Serv Corp., Aviation Safeguards and Aero Port Services refused to offer any improvements in wages, benefits or training despite two months of negotiations and the presence of a federal mediator.
Union officials said the strike so far involves workers from Air Serv, Aviation Safeguards and Aero Port Services. Many other workers remained on the job Thursday or had filled in for those on strike.
A spokesperson for Aviation Safeguards declined to discuss the strike. Officials for G2, Air Serv and Aero Services could not be reached for comment.
American, United and Southwest airlines reported that the strike had not affected their operations Thursday afternoon. At Southwest, airline representatives said that no more than 20 baggage runners and wheelchair assistants had gone on strike and that their positions were being filled by other contract workers.
Tim Smith, a spokesman for American Airlines, said janitors had walked off the job at the American terminal, but they were replaced by members of the contractor's management. American handles roughly 180 departures and arrivals a day at LAX.
The return to work is part of a three-week "cooling off" period negotiated by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
The 2,500 airline workers are seeking higher wages and affordable health care.
But the campaign is complicated by the fact that the airport subcontracts its janitorial work to UNICCO, a maintenance company that employs the workers.
>"Our local is focusing on California, because we think California leads the nation on so many levels," said Brian Rudiger, chief of the Service Employees's Airport Division.