Seizing on the busiest travel day of the year to maximize their visibility, about 60 workers at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport rallied Wednesday for a $15 minimum wage and the opportunity for all airport workers to unionize.
Demonstrators said they were inspired to gather because U.S. airlines pocketed $15.5 billion in profits in 2017 and Delta CEO Ed Bastian made $13.2 million in total compensation that year, an hourly rate 500 times over what subcontracted Delta workers make.
The rally, held outside on the ticketing level of Terminal 1, came a few days after St. Paul joined Minneapolis in passing a $15 minimum wage. “We deserve the same pay and respect as workers one mile this way and one mile that way,” Glen Brown, an airport wheelchair attendant, said while waving toward the Twin Cities. He makes a minimum wage of $10.65.
“There’s thousands of us around here making what I make while airline CEOs make tens of millions of dollars,” Brown said to cheering supporters. “That ain’t right.”
The rally, which lasted just under an hour, was peaceful and orderly, and traffic was not disrupted. Participants marched in a circle carrying colorful signs that read, “Fight for 15.”
Speaking at the rally were members of SEIU Local 26, UNITE HERE Local 17, Delta workers seeking to form a union with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and other nonunion employees. In 2010, most of Delta Air Lines employees — including flight attendants, gate and ticket agents, and baggage and cargo handlers — rejected unionizing the combined workforces of the former Twin Cities based Northwest Airlines by a margin of less than 2 percent.
Marty Knaeble, a senior Delta ramp worker of 21 years, lamented that the change removed protections for living standards and job security. He told colleagues that “If we unite … then we have real power.”
“We’re the workers who make sure the planes go out,” he said. “That they’re clean. That the people who come through the airport are fed. We’re the ones who make things happen at that airport.”
In response to the rally, Patrick Hogan, spokesman for the Metropolitan Airports Commission, said in statement that the MAC “has long advocated for compensation interests of employees of companies providing direct services” to the airport and “has worked to encourage appropriate wage levels for employees of direct contractors for construction, concessions, parking management, janitorial and other services.
“We will continue to look at labor issues at MSP to ensure a strong workforce going forward,” he said.
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter signed a citywide $15 minimum wage ordinance into law on Monday after the City Council voted unanimously to approve it. The phase-in period will begin in 2020. Last year, Minneapolis became the first Midwestern city to adopt a $15 ordinance, with a phase-in over several years.