Photo caption: Left: Madhav Ghimirey, a Sea-Tac Airport cook at Anthony’s Restaurant, at is at risk of losing a job that has kept him and his family afloat, Photo credit: Katrina Pestano. Right: *Worker retention policies encourage airline service contractors to retain experienced staff. All airports above provide a worker retention provision except Sea-Tac. Chart from Puget Sound Sage’s “Below the Radar” report. Redesigned by Ryan Catabay / RN2 Creative.
Bhutanese refugee Madhav Ghimirey came to Seattle in 2009 from Nepal. Upon arrival, he found work at Anthony’s Restaurant at Sea-Tac International Airport. Ghimirey works full-time as a cook making $13.45 an hour with benefits. He has health care that covers his entire family.
Airport food service company HMSHost Corporation runs Anthony’s Restaurant that has a contract with the union Unite HERE! Local 8.
Though Ghimirey is satisfied with his job, he wishes he had the time and energy to go to English language classes.
“When I started, I did not know any English,” he said. “There was no time to go to class, and I had to learn [English] on the job.”
Both he and his wife work full-time to support three children, one in college and two in high school. Ghimirey said his wages are sufficient to “cover the basics,” but his living-wage job is at risk.
Joe Stormer is an organizer with UNITE HERE! Local 8 who works with Ghimirey and other unionized airport workers.
“The airport is a really unique community. There are so many different cultures and languages. And sadly, that community is in danger of being torn apart,” said Stormer. “As the airport goes through the process of bidding out the contracts, there is no security for their employee’s jobs. If the [airport] workers’ company is replaced by another company, then those original jobs are replaced by different ones. Inevitably, these union jobs will be replaced with non-union jobs.”
Non-union workers at the airport have a very different struggle. Last spring, Seattle-based nonprofit and think-tank, Puget Sound Sage, approached BAYAN-USA Pacific Northwest (BAYAN-PNW), a coalition of grassroots Filipino organizations. Since Sea-Tac Airport has a significant population of Filipino immigrant employees, Sage asked BAYAN to support the campaign for good jobs at the airport. Their current campaign focuses on Filipino and immigrant worker’s rights since many of the Filipino airport workers are experiencing hardship, especially since jobs have been outsourced to airline contractors in the last 30 years.
As regional co-coordinator of BAYAN-PNW, I was asked to attend and speak at several mobilization events for their campaign. As an immigrant myself, I felt an immediate kinship to the stories of many of the airport workers. One of the workers I met was Evelyn Olano, a Filipina woman who has been working at the Sea-Tac Airport for more than a decade. She was fired from Starbucks after nine years citing “insubordination” because she knew her rights and did not allow herself to be pushed around.
For the last two-and-a-half years, she has been working 32 hours a week at $9.19 an hour (minimum wage) with no health care. To make ends meet, she works 20 additional hours at another company at the airport — also at minimum wage.
Puget Sound Sage recently published a report titled “Below the Radar” that illustrates how Sea-Tac Airport has fallen behind other airports in minimum workforce standards. This publication cites four other West Coast airports — San Francisco, Los Angeles, Oakland and San Jose — that pay their workers a livable wage ($12.43-$15.27) with health care and paid time off. Nicole Vallestero Keenan, a policy analyst and researcher at Sage who co-authored the report, said that an airport ramp worker used to make the equivalent of $28 an hour 30 years ago. Now they make an average of $9.95 per hour as contractors.
“Airline contractors compete fiercely by cutting costs that can also compromise airport security, public health and passenger safety,” Keenan said. “Providing paid sick days, paying living wage and having the right to unionize is good for workers, good for our economy and builds communities where all people can thrive.”
Sage is helping organize faith leaders and community groups like BAYAN-PNW and immigrant advocacy group OneAmerica to support union recognition for more than 2,000 contract airport workers. This includes ramp workers, cabin cleaners, baggage handlers, wheelchair attendants and other passenger service employees.
“There is a lot of community support for the campaign because there is no separation between workers and the community. The workers are part of the community, and when they can make ends meet and get ahead, we all benefit,” said Claudia Paras, Sage’s airport coalition organizer.
Recently, Paras gathered community members to door-knock for what they call the Good Jobs Initiative in the City of Sea-Tac. The measure — which could either appear on Sea-Tac’s November 2013 ballot or be passed by the Sea-Tac City Council — would set basic employment standards for workers in Sea-Tac’s transportation, tourism and hospitality industries. This includes paid sick leave, full-time work for those who need it, a living wage of at least $15 an hour, job security for employees when companies change contractors and assurances that tips and service charges go to the workers who perform the service. Community volunteers and organizers collected 2,500 signatures to support the measure, which is more than the number of voters they need to pass the initiative.
“This is going to directly improve the standard of living for over 4,000 workers,” said Stormer. “It’s going to raise these workers out of poverty.”
Madhav Ghimirey has been actively campaigning for this initiative since May 1st. When Evelyn Olano heard about the initiative, she was very pleased.
“It would mean I don’t have to work another job. It would make me very happy,” she said.