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Workers who handle baggage and assist passengers at airports will attend President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address Tuesday as Democratic lawmakers seek to highlight their push for better wages and benefits.
“This is really important for every airport across the country,” said Diana Ordaz Quezada, who helps passengers in wheelchairs at Midway International Airport in Chicago. “People who clean the airports, people who do cabins, people who clean inside the planes, all of us, we need what we deserve, we’re essential workers. What would the airlines do without us?”
Ordaz Quezada will attend the address as a guest of Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García (D-Ill.). Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) also invited an airport service worker as his guest—part of a push for a bill that would restrict federal funds to airports unless workers are paid at least the prevailing local wage or $15 per hour.
Democrats make their pitch as work ramps up on a bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration. Committees in both the House and Senate are holding hearings on aviation policy this week with an eye toward the Sept. 30 deadline to reauthorize the agency.
García said Ordaz Quezada “isn’t fighting alone.” His legislation from the last Congress would get airport workers “the pay they deserve,” he said. It would also require airports to ensure service workers employed by vendors are paid prevailing wages and benefits. He said at a hearing on Tuesday that he plans to reintroduce it soon.
“It’s time to get up and speak out against corporate greed,” said García, who is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and is running for Chicago mayor. “And it’s time for Congress to legislate against it.”
Schumer on Tuesday is bringing Pedro Gamboa Bermudez, a Guatemalan immigrant who works as a baggage handler at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
“He came to the United States at a young age pursuing the American Dream, but now he has helped others achieve that dream too by organizing his terminal to form a union at the JFK International Airport and becoming one of the founding members of the 32BJ SEIU local,” Schumer said. “Airport workers deserve a living wage, benefits, and better working conditions.”
The wage and benefit mandate would apply to any airport that received federal funding, as more dollars are rolling out from the infrastructure law (Public Law 117-58). The legislation is endorsed by unions, many of which rallied for it in front of the US Capitol in December.
“It shouldn’t matter where you live or work—every airport service worker needs to be respected and protected,” Ordaz Quezada said in an interview.
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