Service Workers Strike At Los Angeles Airport

August 29, 2008

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Some 1,500 workers at Los Angeles International Airport went on strike on Thursday in a contract dispute with companies providing baggage, security and wheelchair services for several major airlines there.

The walkout began as the world's fifth busiest passenger airport -- and third busiest in the United States -- headed into the bustling Labor Day holiday weekend, during which an estimated 825,000 travelers are expected to pass through LAX.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1877 has been negotiating since May with a group of companies contracted to provide various ground services for major carriers, primarily American, United and Southwest airlines.

The contract at issue in the strike would cover 1,500 workers, mostly skycaps, baggage handlers, wheelchair attendants and terminal security personnel.

The union is negotiating two more separate contracts covering another 1,000 workers, including terminal and aircraft cabin cleaners, but they have not joined the strike as yet.

The union is demanding higher wages, improved health-care coverage and more training for its members, who the union says currently earn an average of USD$19,000 a year.

Union spokesman Tanya Aquino said the improved wages and benefits sought by the union would add less than 25 cents to the cost of an average airline ticket.

Airline and airport officials declined comment except to say the strike posed no immediate major disruptions. A spokesman for the industry bargaining agent declined comment.

The strike comes as airlines are being squeezed by rising fuel costs that are being passed on to consumers in the form of higher ticket prices and additional surcharges.

Union supporters argue that levels of service and security standards hinge on the working conditions of the striking employees, and that airlines have a responsibility to support improved wages and benefits for service workers.

Danny Feingold of the LA Alliance for a New Economy, a non-profit organization backing the union, said major airlines have received over USD$8 billion in government subsidies since 2001 while continuing to outsource more service work to low-paying contractors.

Several hundred workers walked picket lines Thursday afternoon around the terminals of LAX, which tallied nearly 62 million travelers last year.

(Reuters)