“We hope that soon our fight will be coming to an end,” Legesse Z. Woldearegay, a security officer at National, said in a letter to be delivered Wednesday to MWAA leaders, along with a signed petition. “And that our light will shine on the dome of MWAA headquarters and that our voices will be heard in the board of directors’ office.”
After a rally Wednesday afternoon at National’s Terminal A, dozens of workers and their supporters walked to the MWAA office to hand over a petition with more than 1,000 signatures urging it to extend its living wage to all contracted airport workers.
MWAA, which oversees National and Dulles, has a living-wage policy that applies to airport contracts but not to companies that contract directly with individual airlines. There are more than 2,000 workers at National and as many as 4,200 at Dulles who work for such companies. Some of those workers are paid as little as $6 per hour, in addition to “unreliable tips,” according to the Service Employees International Union, which is organizing the workers.
An MWAA contract for custodial services sets an hourly wage of $14.27, MWAA spokesman Rob Yingling said.
In a statement Wednesday, MWAA said: “The Airports Authority’s Board of Directors has been reviewing wage policy proposals for the past six months and continues to do so. That review includes hearing and considering the views of potentially affected stakeholders such as airlines and airport concession companies.”
The board could address the issue as early as its meeting next Wednesday, the statement said.
Anthony J. Vegliante, head of human resources welcomed a group of workers and union leaders at the MWAA office Wednesday afternoon and heard stories from workers about working conditions and low salaries. He told them: “I hear you and I will share your message with the CEO and the board.”
Workers and their supporters then gathered outside to rally. They say they want MWAA to follow the example of other airport governing bodies that have taken a stand for workers, approving policies to raise wages. Such changes have taken place in major hubs including Los Angeles and New York. In South Florida, Broward County officials voted last fall to extend a living-wage ordinance to contract airline workers, increasing wages by more than $3 an hour for some of them.
More than 70,000 airport workers nationwide have received wage increases or other improvements, including health care, paid sick leave and worker-retention policies, as a result of the national campaign for $15 an hour, according to the SEIU. The progress, the union says, is the result of years of organizing and protesting, marching and striking.
In Washington, workers have taken their fight to the halls of Congress, lobbying lawmakers for support. In the past year, they have joined a national strike to protest unfair treatment by their employers, held prayers, rallies and protests, and filed federal complaints against employers, alleging that workers have been threatened for joining the movement. Now they are officially asking the MWAA to stand with them.
“We are desperate for real change for our families now!” says the petition to be delivered to MWAA’s chief executive, John Potter. “We respectfully urge you to make the right decision soon and improve the lives of thousands of working families.”
Supporters are also sending that message.
“MWAA can and should act to ensure that these workers can provide for their families and better serve the hundreds of millions of passengers who rely on them to travel safely,” Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), who is expected at Wednesday’s rally, said in a statement. “A $15 per hour wage would help move these hard-working men and women off social welfare programs and generate critical economic activity in our region.”
The workers say they hope to persuade the authority to act on their behalf this fall.
“We know we have God on our side and now we just need you,” wrote Woldearegay, who has worked at National Airport for a decade as a customer-service representative during the day and a security officer overnight.