“We stand in solidarity with the Brussels Airport workers and our thoughts and prayers are with the families that lost loved ones in this senseless tragedy,” said Legesse Woldearegay, a customer service agent at Reagan National Airport who was prepared to go on strike Tuesday night. “We must all work together to make our airports as safe as they can possibly be.”
More than 2,000 workers, including cleaners, security officers and baggage handlers were set to strike at National, Chicago’s O’Hare, New Jersey’s Newark Liberty, and New York’s Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, among others.
The walkout was planned in protest of low wages and retaliation for union organizing, labor leaders said. Airport workers were also hoping to draw attention to workplace conditions, including alleged health and safety violations and inadequate training for workers in key security positions.
Some workers said the events in Brussels draw attention to some of the problems they say they face, including inadequate training.
“We need critical training to protect ourselves, other workers and the passengers if there were to be an emergency,” said Sadaf Subijano, a security officer at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. She said she and her teammates don’t receive training related to how to respond to an emergency similar to the one at the Brussels airport.
Valarie Long, SEIU International Executive Vice President said the union “supports efforts to improve airport safety and security through policies that set minimum labor and training standards for airport contractors and provide incentives for airport workers to stay in their jobs long-term.”
The SEIU represents close to 20,000 contract airport service workers at 30 U.S. airports, as well as security screeners at San Francisco International Airport.
No major disruptions were expected as a result of the strike. But after the two explosions in Brussels and heightened security at airports across the U.S., any protests and rallies could potentially put travelers on edge.