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Workers at some US airports plan strike

Workers at seven of the busiest US air hubs to strike Thursday over wages, threats against unionizing

Airport workers at seven of the busiest U.S. hubs plan to strike on Wednesday night and Thursday over what they say are bad wages and threats against unionizing.

Some 2,000 plane cleaners, baggage handlers and other workers will strike at New York's Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, as well as Newark Liberty, Chicago O'Hare, Boston, Philadelphia and Fort Lauderdale, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) said.

The walkout comes just before air travel picks up for the Thanksgiving holiday. U.S. airlines American, United, Delta and JetBlue said they do not expect the action to impact their operations.

The strikers work for companies that U.S. carriers contract for some airport operations. That means pilots, flight attendants and in-house baggage handlers are not taking part in the action.

Subcontracting is a perennial concern for the labor movement, in part because of the practice’s apparent role in suppressing wages across whole industries. According to David Weil, Wage and Hour Division administrator for the U.S. Labor Department, the growth of subcontracting and similar forms of labor arrangements have played a major role in driving down compensation.

"We don't receive enough money to pay the rent," said Damaso Mejia, a worker involved with the SEIU who cleans and checks plane interiors for suspicious objects at New York Kennedy for $10.10 an hour.

He said he will start working a second job next month and will log 18-hour days to supplement his income.

The walkout has been in the works since the SEIU, which seeks to unionize these workers, sponsored a convention in Washington a month ago for airport workers to discuss their concerns. The SEIU said some workers perceived threats against organizing.

The nation's largest health care and service sector union represents about 2 million nurses, health care workers, maintenance workers, security guards, and other service providers. It is among the most ethnically diverse unions in the country. 

The union is the main backer of the Fight for $15 protests by fast food workers and other low-wage service employees, who are demanding a $15 hourly wage and union recognition. The fast food workers held the latest in a series of nationwide strikes last week.

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer and several congressmen will attend a news conference in Washington on Thursday to garner support for $15 hourly wages, the union said. Rallies are to take place at other U.S. airports.

On Tuesday the SEIU endorsed Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton for the November 2016 election. Clinton said last month in a letter to the SEIU that "airport jobs should be good jobs — and together, we can make sure they are."

Plans by some New York airport workers to strike in July, supported by the SEIU, were called off after a last-minute agreement with their employer, Command Security Corp.

Al Jazeera with Reuters

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