Those who keep Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport clean are finally on their way to earning a living wage. The long-fought battle for a higher wage has finally been won. Their pay raise goes into effect April 2, 2022. Members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Workers United Southern Region gathered at their office near the airport on Wednesday, March 30, 2020, to celebrate the victory. They were joined by SEIU Regional Director, Chris Bauman; Florida/Georgia District Director Mark Wilkerson; Assistant Regional Director, Harris Raynor and SEIU Secretary/ Treasurer, Gerry Hudson. There were also representatives from local partners in attendance, such as New Georgia Project and Georgia Stand Up.
During a press conference held at the regional office, Mark Wilkerson detailed the arduous fight for higher pay on behalf of the airport workers. He recounted the actions that took place following a 2021 press conference, noting that moment as a turning point in their fight. He talked about the support that the union received from Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, who was a Councilman at the time. He credited Dickens for sponsoring a resolution by the Atlanta City Council, urging service contractors to pay airport cleaners at least $15 per hour. Although the resolution was ignored by the employers of the airport cleaners, the union recognized that Mayor Dickens was an ally and supported his run for Mayor, which he won.
Mr. Wilkerson said that he and union members went back to Mayor Dickens, when he was only 42 days into his Mayoral term, and informed him of their intent to strike if wages were not increased. According to Mr. Wilkerson, the Mayor's response was overwhelming and unexpected. Two short days later, Mayor Dickens informed SEIU Workers United Southern Region that a deal for higher wages had been struck on their behalf! Mr. Wilkerson pointed a sign that read: "Now Arriving....Unions for All," and declared, "We've been circling the airport for almost 20 years....well, we've landed today...right here! He continued his remarks by thanking Mayor Dickens, SEIU members and all who supported their efforts. He concluded by saying, "Don't fight for one, fight for all!"
Mr. Wilkerson then called upon Harris Raynor, SEIU Assistant Regional Director, to give some specifics of the historic deal. Mr. Raynor began by giving some background on the fight for fair wages, and stated that the starting pay for airport workers in 2009 was $7.25 per hour. As of March 1, 2022, that rate had only increased to $8.50 per hour, which equates to a raise of $.09 per year. Mr. Raynor was pleased to announce that as a result of the new deal, all airport cleaners will earn at least $12 per hour. The deal comes complete with shift differentials, up to $15 per hour, with Bathroom Ambassadors earning an extra $1 per hour. He reported that employees with 16 years or more of seniority would now be entitled to an additional week of vacation time. He also said that for the first time in the history of the Atlanta Airport, the Dr. Martin Luther King Holiday would be observed by the Atlanta Airport!
The last person to speak at the press conference was Ms. Cynthia Hartsfield, the hero of SEIU Workers United Southern Region. Ms. Hartsfield, an airport cleaner, has led the fight for a contract and a fair wage for 39 years! As she approached the microphone and began to speak, she began to cry. "It's really been a struggle," she said, "I'm speechless." Mr. Wilkerson consoled Ms. Hartsfield, and made a surprise announcement. He announced that Ms. Hartsfield would be honored by Mayor Dickens at the upcoming State of the City address, for all of her hard work and dedication in the fight for workers' rights.
As the celebration and day of action continued, union members were greeted by Gerry Hudson, Secretary/Treasurer of SEIU. Mr. Hudson congratulated the union members and recognized the grit that was necessary to endure the seemingly endless fight for a contract. He roused the crowd by shouting, "We will not work for these poverty wages....In this country, disrespecting black and brown people is a way of life, but we're not going to take it anymore!" He went on to say that because of the efforts of the airport cleaners in Atlanta, airport workers are now striking in Orlando, Charlotte and Houston. He said that while he was happy and hopeful about the new contract, that it was essential to "find a way to make this the floor, not the ceiling."
Reported by Keyanna Jones