Denise Solis, first vice president for SEIU-USWW, leads airport facilities contract workers in chants as they walk through the terminal during the demonstration at SFO on Wednesday. Cody McFarland/Special to S.F. Examiner

Airport workers rally at SFO for better working conditions

Respect for their labor, safer workloads and affordable health care were among the demands.

Airport workers chanted, waved signs and marched through a San Francisco International Airport terminal on Wednesday, demanding better working conditions and dignity in the workplace as their union hammers out a new contract.

Respect for their labor, safer workloads and affordable health care were among the demands of baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, security officers, wheelchair attendants and other contracted airport workers at the demonstration, which was organized by the labor union SEIU-United Service Workers West.

“As an airport worker here at SFO, I am treated as a second-class citizen,” said Luisa Cancio, a SEIU-USWW executive board member and one of the lead organizers of the rally. “Our supervisors call us stupid, old and weak. I work in a rat-infested building covered in dust and with no ventilation. Although we have asked for better working conditions, our voices are ignored.”

Cancio works as a cabin cleaner for contractor ABM, a facility services provider for more than 75 airports worldwide. The grievances she and other workers have with ABM and the airlines to which they’re contracted, she said, include unsafe working conditions, insufficient and costly health coverage, low wages and a lack of dignity in the workplace.

She said members of her union are currently negotiating a contract with five airlines to improve working conditions for contracted employees.

Cancio addressed the crowd of about 50 in her native Tagalog, but also provided an English translation. Above all, her short speech stressed that the working rights of airline facilities employees be upheld and respected.

“Many of the workers are organized with a union contract, but the [rally is meant] to encourage the big airlines like United and Southwest to use responsible contractors across the board,” Stephen Boardman, communications director for SEIU-USWW, said. “Airport passenger service workers are some of the lowest paid workers in the Bay Area and many work in unsafe conditions. We want to raise awareness about the issue and encourage airlines to use contractors that treat workers with respect and dignity.”

According to Boardman, airport passenger service workers make $18.16 per hour, the SF living wage.

Officials from SFO and ABM had not replied to requests for comment as of press time.

Baggage handler Theodore Tsadick said his primary reason for joining the rally was the lack of respect he receives from his superiors.

“We don’t get any respect whatsoever,” Tsadick said. “We don’t even have a lunchroom or place where we can sit down and eat.”

He said his supervisors regularly talk down to him and beckon him with demeaning hand gestures. He hopes the current contract under negotiation will change such behaviors and lead to a more dignified work experience where employees are shown mutual respect, he said.

“I hope they see we are united,” he said. “We are a union and we’re requesting our rights.”

Supervisors Gordon Mar and Hillary Ronen both spoke at the beginning of the rally, expressing their support for the contract workers and their union.

“The truth of the matter is, the only way to get justice in the workplace today in San Francisco and all over the country is through collective action and the union,” Ronen said.

The District 9 supervisor also personally thanked the employees, specifically the wheelchair attendants, for their careful handling of her father, a wheelchair user who regularly flies with Southwest out of SFO.

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