As a baggage handler at Philadelphia International Airport, I've been on strike to fight for a better airport and against illegal bullying. But going on strike is a last resort. It is a major burden to go without pay and face possible retribution from our employers.
Some unions have vowed not to strike during the Democratic National Convention. I respect their choice and support them. They have collective bargaining agreements that allow them to make a living wage and enjoy fair schedules, health care, and retirement benefits. Their decision not to strike is reasonable, but my coworkers and I cannot afford to take a strike off the table. We won't stay hidden when the world is watching Philadelphia.
We are the men and women who will handle the DNC delegates' bags. We will help passengers in wheelchairs get to their gates and clean hundreds of planes that will bring DNC visitors to our city. We make the DNC - and every other major event that comes to town - possible.
Our treatment, wages, and conditions are a sad reflection on this city. We are mostly black workers who have watched as Philadelphia's new development has helped everyone but us. We see luxury condos being built and a huge expansion of the airport. Yet we're stuck in jobs that keep us in poverty and do not allow us to provide for our families.
Philadelphia is (proudly) a union town. The stagehands putting up events for the DNC are union. The bus and taxi drivers delivering delegates to the convention are union. The police and firefighters protecting the DNC are union. The pilots and flight attendants bringing the delegates here: all union.
My coworkers and I are among the only group of working people with a major hand in the DNC who are not in a union.
We do the jobs that used to be done by the airlines with - you guessed it - union workers. But in an effort to save a buck, the airlines have outsourced these jobs over the last 30 years to subcontractors. These subcontractors outbid each other for lucrative contracts by paying their workers as little as possible and keeping them from organizing.
But we have been organizing. We have joined security officers, health-care and fast-food workers, and more who have spoken out for wages of $15 an hour and a union. We have gone on strike four times, held numerous rallies, and even taken over City Hall. We won some major victories, most notably a raise to $12 an hour. We've blown the whistle on some serious health and safety violations. And we've held our employers accountable for violations of federal labor law.
Our fight for a union is about getting affordable health care, vacation days, schedules that allow us to take care of our families, a voice on the job to raise concerns about safety and security, and assurance that we won't be fired for no reason. We believe our demands are more than reasonable, especially as the airlines made billions in profits last year. Clearly there is prosperity in the aviation industry - it's just passing us by.
Airport workers are the canary in the coal mine for the future of Philadelphia. If 2,000 struggling, subcontracted airport workers finally win a living wage, benefits, and a union, the city's new prosperity might start to spread into more neighborhoods.
The DNC should be a chance to celebrate the spirit of Philadelphia and the Democratic Party, both of which have a long history of supporting labor unions. The last things the city and the Democratic Party should showcase are poverty and labor problems at the airport.
Philadelphia is poised to "Make History Again" with the DNC. The city's airport workers want to be sure this history is one we can be proud of.