COVID-19 in Pa.: More than 600 Philly airport workers to be laid off

Philadephia International Airport (Philadelphia Tribune photo)

By Ayana Jones

PHILADELPHIA — Nyiasha Johnson showed up to work on Wednesday, only to find out that she no longer had a job.

She is one of more than 600 Philadelphia International Airport workers represented by 32BJ Service Employees International Union (SEIU) who will receive layoff notices this week. The contracted service workers are baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, skycaps, wheelchair attendants, line queue workers and security officers who are on the front lines of the operations at the airport.

“I was very shocked and frustrated because I’m not sure if I’m going to pay my bills now,” said Johnson, who is employed by a security contractor for American Airlines.

“I’m really at loss for words because it’s so overwhelming. I just feel like it came so unexpected.”

Airport spokeswoman Florence Brown would not comment to the Associated Press about potential job cuts by the companies that operate there.

The largest portion of the workers are employed by American Airlines subcontractors PrimeFlight Aviation and Prospect Airport Services.

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Prospect Airport Services Inc. said it would begin layoffs at the Philadelphia airport on Sunday.

In a statement, Prospect officials said demand for its services at the airport has fallen as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, but hoped the layoffs would be temporary.

The layoffs come as the airlines have asked the government to give them a $50 billion bailout in the form of loans, grants and tax relief due to the coronavirus pandemic.

32BJ SEIU is demanding that the contracted airport workers be included in the relief efforts.

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“We’re asking City Council and the mayor, who have long been the strongest advocates for these workers, to step up again and fight for these workers,” said Gabe Morgan, vice president of 32BJ SEIU for Pennsylvania and Delaware.

“We’re asking Congress and the Senate to require that any part of the bailout will also help contracted service workers.”

“The irony here to us is that this an industry that is seeking a huge bailout and they are telling Congress, ‘If you give us this money, we’ll stop workers from losing their jobs,’ but what they seem to mean is only workers who are direct employees of the airline,” he continued.

“So once again these workers are being treated like second class workers at an airport.”

“These kinds of workers, up until three years ago, were making $5 to $7 an hour on average. It wasn’t until they went on strike twice and the mayor of Philadelphia, the City Council and the governor of Pennsylvania intervened to require the airlines to pay so that these workers can make a 21st century wage.”

The majority of these contracted workers currently make $13 an hour on average and have no health insurance.

“If the way we’re going to respond to this crisis is by having the majority of hourly wage workers be the ones to bear the economic consequences of this, then we’re going move from a recession into a depression,” Morgan added.

“What happens in a place like Philly if low wage workers all lose their jobs and don’t have health care?“

Ayana Jones is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared. Via The Tribune, Associated Press reports are included in this story.