Thirteen people were arrested outside Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Monday for staging a protest for better disability-passenger services.
Around 100 union members and workers called for larger staffs and higher wages to better meet the demand for wheelchair- and passenger-cart services in the airport. Those arrested were sitting on the road outside Terminal 1. They were ticketed for unlawful assembly.
The protesters’ complaints were directed at Delta Air Lines, which has been previously fined twice for its disability services. The Department of Transportation fined Delta $2 million in 2011 for making it difficult for disabled passengers to fly and $1.35 million in 2003 for failing to provide wheelchair assistance.
The airport’s disability-passenger services employees have been trying to organize a union with the Service Employees International Union Local 26. The union said workers have been working for two years for better conditions. Disability-related complaints to Delta increased after the 2003 fine, according to the transportation department.
Workers and union members presented these complaints to the Metropolitan Airports Commission before the protest Monday. Dan Boivin, the Metropolitan Airports Commission chairman, said the commission needs to study the issues before recommending a decision to the employers.
“We have the responsibility to take a look at it and encourage the people that have the responsibility to step forward and do something about it, if it is a problem,” he said.
Several hundred wheelchair attendants are paid $7.25 with no benefits, according to the union.
Darcy Landau, a wheelchair agent at the airport, makes about $8 in tips most days. Because of understaffing, Landau said workers often assist first passengers with connecting flights before those with final destinations in Minneapolis — resulting in longer waiting times.
“I’m embarrassed about the way we treat passengers,” Landau said.
The protesters chanted outside Delta Gate 4 in the airport’s Terminal 1.
Darrell Paulsen of St. Paul, a leader in the disability rights association ADAPT, has cerebral palsy and uses a motorized wheelchair. He said he sees the effects of low wages and understaffing at the airport.
“When my family travels, we deserve the same dignity as anyone else, and the MAC has the power to make sure Delta makes this happen,” Paulsen said.
Abera Siyoum of St. Paul, an electric-cart driver with Air Serv, makes $7.25. Siyoum, who has a second job, works almost 70 hours a week and rarely sees his two children.
“All the employees deserve vacation,” Siyoum said. “We deserve health insurance. We don’t get anything.”