Charlotte Airport Workers Walk off Job Before Memorial Day Weekend, Demand More Pay

May 24, 2024

Holding a picket sign, Charlotte airport worker Shawn Montgomery joined his frustrated co-workers as they shouted “corporate greed has to go,” “stand up, fight back,” and more chants calling for better pay and work conditions.

“We’ve had enough,” said Montgomery, an access control agent looking over the structural integrity of airplanes before takeoff. “We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. We feel undervalued and underpaid.”

Service Employees International Union’s Airport Workers United organization held a rally on Thursday across the street from Charlotte Douglas International Airport near the busy intersection entrance at Wilkinson Boulevard and North Josh Birmingham Parkway. Workers at Charlotte’s airport went on a 24-hour strike Thursday over pay and benefits leading into Memorial Day weekend — which is expected to be the airport’s busiest ever.

SEIU said dozens of workers from ABM, a provider of airline and aviation services, made the decision to walk off the job after making the threat on Wednesday. The union said the workers are receiving unfair pay for their labor. Some of the job duties include cleaning planes, hauling trash and loading luggage.

Bernetha Brown, SEIU district director for North Carolina, said it’s the right time to show how important airport workers are at CLT since it’s a holiday weekend. NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway is also bringing in large crowds.

“We want not just the company, but the people to know that low-wage workers are mistreated workers,” Brown said. “They are tired and fed up and they want change and they want it now.”

During the rally, workers spoke about doing labor in cold and hot weather, with some people passing out on the job because of conditions. Others said they’re unable to take vacations because of low pay.

As drivers honked their horns to show support to frustrated workers, ABM employee Dorothy Griffin said the rally was important to raise awareness. She works in a shop and distributes cleaning equipment to workers.

“Today, they offered them $500 to work,” she said. “But if you gave us a decent living wage, you wouldn’t have to do that. We’ll be at work.”

Charlotte Douglas International Airport service workers receive around $14 per hour with few benefits, according to SEIU.

The union said wages for airport service workers have been near-poverty levels for the past 20 years. SEIU added that corporations operating at the airport are fueling staffing shortages by “siloing Black, brown and immigrant airport service workers into low-paying jobs with few benefits or protections.”

Managers threatened to take away their badges on Wednesday, according to SEIU.

More than 1.05 million passengers are predicted to pass through CLT during the holiday period, airport officials announced Tuesday. The Memorial Day travel period for the airport starts Thursday and ends on Tuesday.

CLT officials said they prioritize passenger safety and having efficient operations. They also noted that the striking workers are not employed by the city of Charlotte.

“There have been no impacts to operations this morning and CLT remains in communication with airport partners,” the airport said in a statement.

Councilwoman Tiawana Brown attended the event to stand with the workers in solidarity.

“They need to be able to take care of their families, their children and some of them want to go on vacation,” she said. “The wages are really hard, but they work really hard and I stand behind them.”

ABM is aware of the demonstration and has taken steps to minimize any potential service disruption, said spokesman Michael Valentino.

“ABM cares greatly about the well-being of its team members,” Valentino said.

In April, the company began transitioning responsibilities for aircraft cabin cleaning as well as the janitorial cleaning of other areas at the airport from the incumbent provider Jetstream, he said. ABM assumed full management of these services this past week.

“Even with the new company, we see that they’re following the same particular route,” Montgomery said.

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