Workday Minnesota: Profits soar, but airlines leave workers behind

As they slash their workforces and pressure employees to work harder, U.S. airlines are poised to make record profits this year. But workers like Abdi Ali don’t expect to benefit.

Ali provides wheelchair and cart service to disabled passengers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport as an employee of Air Serv, a contractor for the airlines. He earns $7.25 an hour with no health insurance or other benefits.

“Most of us work two jobs to make a living,” said Ali, who joined with other airport workers for a demonstration Friday on the mezzanine above the Lindbergh Terminal’s ticket and security counters.

Airlines will post record earnings this year and North American carriers will be the most profitable, generating some $8.3 billion in earnings, according to the International Air Transport Association.

Profits have soared as airlines merge, limiting competition and creating a few giant carriers, including Delta Airlines, which operates the majority of the flights in and out of Minnesota. Carriers also have laid off thousands of workers to cut costs, the Transport Association said.

Profits for the few, however, have come at the expense of the many. The airlines’ strategy is dependent on outsourcing many services to cut-rate contractors. Today, more than 600 workers at MSP are employed by these outside companies to clean planes, handle baggage and transport passengers in and around the terminals. They earn poverty wages with no benefits.

“Fifteen years ago, most of these jobs here in the airport were good union jobs and workers here made over $17 an hour,” said Greg Nammacher, secretary-treasurer of Service Employees International Union Local 26. “It’s time people can actually support their families on these jobs.”

The airport workers are trying to organize with Local 26 and are conducting numerous actions to call attention to their working conditions.

At least one Metropolitan Airports Commission member is listening. Commissioner Erica Prosser, newly appointed by Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, joined workers at Friday’s demonstration.

“We have a world class airport here. It is an economic driver for the state of Minnesota and all the region,” Prosser said. “It should be a great place for everybody, including the workers.

“I’m hoping to find a way for the MAC to have a role” in addressing the low wages paid to Ali and other airport workers, she said.

Friday’s action came as the Minnesota Legislature considers raising the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour.

(From Workday Minnesota)

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