Militant Journalism

Workers of world’s busiest airport win higher wages in decade-long fight

On March 30, contracted workers of Atlanta’s Hartfield-Jackson International Airport held a rally in celebration of winning wage increases after a long fight. The rally took place outside the SEIU Workers United Southern Region office in College Park, Georgia. Workers who for so long have been paid as little as $8.50 an hour will now see their pay increase to $12 to $15, based on shift. Tenured workers are to also see more vacation time.

The fight for higher wages by the airport workers goes back over 13 years. Cleaners and janitors, employed by Atlanta Airport Terminal Company have resolutely fought for their right to living wages.

In 2009, the workers were being paid a shameful $7.25 an hour — which continues to be both Georgia state’s and the federal minimum wage in 2022. More than 10 years later, the airport workers’ wage had only been increased to a mere $8.50 hourly. Workers who keep the bathrooms clean, mopping, and waxing miles of flooring, cleaning up after people at the world’s busiest airport, were subject to poverty wages.  

Meanwhile, airline CEOs have been paying themselves an average of $5,000 an hour.

Cynthia Hartsfield is a worker representative for SEIU who has worked at the airport for almost four decades and had only made $12 an hour. Hartsfield was a leading force in ensuring that she and her coworkers got better wages. She stated at the rally: “It’s about time our wages reflect our essential contributions to this airport and airlines.”

This is a significant win for the Workers United Southern Region — an affiliate of SEIU — representing the 600-plus workers at the airport. Many of the workers are Black, Brown, and immigrant — fighting to change a system of racist discrimination that has imposed unlivable wages on them.  

Leading to the victory, Mark Wilkerson, the Georgia director of SEIU, explained that he had spoken to newly elected Mayor of Atlanta Andre Dickens and raised the threat of the union going on strike if their demands were not met. When Dickens heard this, “he asked to hold off on it [the strike] for two days,” said Mark Wilkerson.

Fearing a major strike that would bring the operations of the airport to a standstill, Dickens himself was forced to negotiate better wages with AATC for the workers.

SEIU has called this a major victory in a decade-long push for higher wages. But to the workers, this is just the beginning of what more can be achieved. Now that this battle is won, workers plan to continue to fight for more through their union.  

This victory for Atlanta comes as airport workers around the nation take to the streets to demand better wages and working conditions. When workers unite and fight in their interests — showing their collective power — those in charge are forced to concede.

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