U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio, D-17th District, Janitorial Worker Adrienne Houessou, Allegheny County Councilor-at-Large Bethany Hallam, U.S. Rep. Summer Lee, D-12th District, and moderator Gabby Casey-Jones, lead organizer for SEIU 32BJ’s Western Pennsylvania District (Capital-Star photo by Kim Lyons).
PITTSBURGH — Allegheny County Councilor-at-Large Bethany Hallam told service workers for vendors at Pittsburgh International Airport that she would be introducing a resolution next week in support of the federal Good Jobs for Good Airports Act.
“Hopefully some support from the county level will help send a message,” Hallam said during a roundtable with workers from vendors at the airport this week. She was joined by U.S. Reps. Summer Lee, D-12th District, and Chris Deluzio, D-17th District.
The Good Jobs for Good Airports legislation was re-introduced by U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and U.S. Rep. Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia, D-Illinois, earlier this year. It would limit small, medium, and large hub airports from being able to access federal funds if airport service workers aren’t receiving the prevailing wage and benefits established by the U.S. Department of Labor.
The bill would also require service workers at airport vendors to be paid the prevailing wage and benefits as well.
Service workers for vendors at Pittsburgh International Airport told the lawmakers that their working conditions included long hours and hard work made harder by understaffing, and a lack of paid time off.
The workers for vendors aren’t directly employed by the airport or the airport authority, but may interact with travelers.
Airport Spokesperson Bob Kerlik declined to comment.
Promise Mitchell, a wheelchair attendant with airport vendor Prospect Airport Services, told the lawmakers he makes $13.50 an hour and doesn’t receive benefits. “So we pretty much have to tiptoe around everything we do to make sure we’re not getting ourselves hurt because that’s a hospital bill that we’re going to have to pay for at the end of the day,” he said.
Mitchell added that he was “pretty much living on a paycheck-to-paycheck basis, and having to make the money stretch is kind of a job in itself.”
Prospect didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Adrienne Houessou is a janitorial worker for airport vendor JetStream Ground Services, which provides airplane cleaning services. She said there aren’t enough workers to help with deep-cleaning of airplanes, and she sometimes has difficulty taking time off since her PTO is limited.
Hallam reminded Houessou and the other workers that Allegheny County passed a paid sick leave ordinance in 2021 that guarantees five paid sick days a year to businesses in Allegheny County with 26 or more workers, and there was an online complaint portal if employers weren’t meeting that requirement.
“I want every single person in here who does not hit at least five days of sick leave a year to please go online and report your employer for violating county law because that is county law,” Hallam said.
JetStream didn’t respond to the Capital-Star’s request for comment.
Debbie Speece, a worker employed by the Allegheny County Airport Authority and a member of SEIU 32BJ, told the workers that the union had helped her and her coworkers. They don’t pay for parking at work, and she said she makes close to $20 an hour. “None of that would be possible unless our union went to bat for us,” Speece said, adding, “You should not have to pay for your parking when you’re coming here to help their customers. That’s horrible.”
The lawmakers said they were focused on finding solutions. “There’s a lot that we’re trying to do in Washington to give workers like you a fair shot,” Deluzio told the group. The Good Jobs Good Airports bill “will help on pay and benefits all over the country for workers and the jobs that are tough jobs but that we need to have.”
Lee said she’d also add making safe, affordable childcare a crucial worker protection, and that workers should be able to get treatment when they are sick
“You shouldn’t be afraid to go to the doctor even if you have health insurance,” Lee said.
She added that even she, as a member of Congress, sometimes avoided doctor visits for “routine” things because the copay could be expensive.
“I think we need to think about this publicly, if we’re going to talk about how we’re going to protect our airport workers,” Lee added. “Airports are stressful already. We need to make sure that people want to work here.”
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