This week on both sides of the Atlantic, airport workers secured protections for a workforce too often ignored and disrespected.

Amidst weeks of stress, fear and uncertainty, 125,000 contracted airport workers in the United States won an important fight: The U.S. Congress recognized both their vital role in the airline industry and their humanity during the coronavirus crisis by explicitly including $3 billion in the airlines bailout for the contracted workforce.

Airport workers are on the front lines of the COVID-19 epidemic. They keep our airports running, and they clean terminals and planes to help reduce the virus’s spread. In the last week, thousands of airport workers have taken action to demand their inclusion in the bailout as part of Service Employees International Union (SEIU)’s #ProtectAllWorkers campaign.

“The essential staff who clean airplanes, escort elderly and disabled passengers to their gates, and clean and secure our airports were some of the very first to encounter coronavirus. They stood together to make this a better bill and will benefit from the provisions they fought for. Thanks to them what started as a corporate bailout now includes $3 billion to save jobs for the 125,000 contracted airport workers on the frontlines of the COVID19 epidemic,” said Mary Kay Henry President of the SEIU.

“The unemployment insurance expansion will help millions of workers at a time when they need it most. The layoff protection for contracted airport workers could be the difference between families going hungry and facing homelessness or holding on safely to survive along with the industry they serve, said Kyle Bragg President of 32BJ SEIU the largest property service workers union in the United States.

In the UK, UNI affiliate GMB and other union partners have secured a ‘Retention Scheme’ to ensure workers at risk of being laid off or made redundant as a result of the COVID-19 crisis can receive up to 80 per cent of their wages paid through their normal payroll, to a maximum of £2,500 a month. Employers can then choose to top off the other 20 per cent.

The GMB will also be demanding that airport contractors:

  • Top up the remaining 20% of staff wages so no one is unnecessarily out of pocket.
  • To immediately negotiate with GMB to agree on furlough arrangements.
  • Act immediately to reinstate those staff that have been laid off, place them on ‘furlough’ and apply for the grants so that those workers’ wages can be back dated and paid in full from the 1st March (when the grant can be backdated to).
  • Halt all redundancy consultations.
  • Put those staff that can not be given hours due to health and safety or operational reasons on furlough so they can receive pay.
  • Ensure the safety of staff by ensuring adequate social distancing measures can be respected and correct PPE provided where necessary.

“Airport workers are invisible to most passengers, but essential to keep airports moving,” said Christy Hoffman General Secretary of UNI Global Union. “These workers are on the frontlines of the COVID19 pandemic, cleaning terminals and planes to help contain the virus, I commend their collective effort to keep us all safe and protected.”




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