Oakland Airport workers rally for union rights

OAKLAND, Calif. — In a pre-Thanksgiving outpouring of solidarity, over 200 union and community activists gathered at Oakland International Airport Nov. 22 to demand union rights and fair treatment for workers who provide Southwest Airlines passengers with curbside check-in, baggage handling and other services.

Over 120 workers have been seeking to join SEIU Local 1877 since last May, after Southwest contracted with a new firm, Aviation Safeguards, which took over as their employer. The company is refusing to recognize the union through a card-check neutrality agreement.

On the airport’s busiest travel day of the year, passengers were greeted by chants of “Aviation Safeguards, you’re not fair, all we want is our fair share,” as workers and their supporters picketed and rallied near Southwest’s terminal.

Some of the workers, like Danilo Orcullo, are former screeners displaced when the Transportation Security Administration took over that function after Sept. 11, 2001. Orcullo now checks passengers’ boarding passes before their carry-on items are inspected.

“We need decent wages, job security, health benefits, recognition of seniority rights, and respect,” Orcullo said, adding that the company keeps cutting workers’ hours and changing their shifts at the same time its management seeks to intimidate them.

“We are working one day, but don’t know about the next,” he said.

Aviation Security workers and Local 1877 members were joined by demonstrators from several other Service Employee locals, as well as from AFSCME, ILWU, Unite Here, ACORN, the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, Filipinos for Affirmative Action and others.

“People deserve fair pay,” said ACORN member Fannie Broom. “We’re here to make sure they get it.” Broom noted that some airport workers must hold two or even three jobs to make ends meet. “Some are single parents. They end up with no time for their families,” she said, adding that when workers don’t have health benefits, health problems become more severe and the state and county must ultimately pay for their care.

Pointing out that the Oakland Airport is a major employer in the city, Sharon Cornu, head of the Alameda County Central Labor Council, said that despite some recent gains by workers there, the airport is “still not acting as a responsible employer.”

“We’re calling on the Port Commission and the airport to act responsibly” toward their workers, she said.

“As politicians, we are always asked to bring in the dollars, to help with expansion, to make sure facilities are profitable and safe,” newly elected state Assemblymember Sandre Swanson told the rally. “We say that part of the partnership is that the workforce has to be taken care of. Everyone who is an elected official in this area supports this county as a workers’ county.”

“We will stand with you every time,” he said. “Your struggle is our struggle.”

mbechtel @ pww.org