While Twin Citians prepare for Thanksgiving gluttony, dozens of workers at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport began a 24-hour fast Tuesday to call attention to their campaign for higher pay.
The timing of the fast is no coincidence — roughly 25 million travelers will take to the skies this Thanksgiving week.
On Wednesday, workers at MSP airport will hand out fliers and hold a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony at a kiosk in the baggage claim of Terminal 1 (Lindbergh). Many of the workers at the airport hail from Ethiopia and other African countries.
Airport terminal and airplane cleaners, skycaps, wheelchair and customer service agents, security officers, ramp workers and baggage handlers at MSP and airports nationwide have been battling for $15-an-hour wages and better benefits for nearly two years.
Living-wage laws have been passed at a handful of airports nationwide, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami and St. Louis.
The push for higher wages has already met with some success locally.
The Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) raised the minimum wage by one dollar to $10 an hour on Aug. 1, with a 50-cent hourly raise to follow next summer. The increase covered about 2,800 workers at the airport.
But the Service Employees International Union, which represents about 200 janitors at the airport, said at the time the raise wasn’t enough to provide workers with a living wage. The union is in the middle of a campaign to organize an additional 1,000 workers at the airport.
Last December, the MAC also approved a sick-day policy for several companies that do business at the airport that calls for companies with 21 employees or more to provide at least one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked. However, business groups say higher wages and costly benefits could hurt MSP’s competitiveness. Vaughn Jennings, spokesman for the industry group Airlines for America, said in a statement that “the appropriate way to address the minimum wages is at the statewide or national level, so that wage scales apply to all workers equally, regardless of industry sector or geographic location.”
MAC Spokesman Patrick Hogan on Tuesday declined to comment on the 24-hour fast. “It’s really not our issue,” he said.
Last week, about 2,000 workers went on strike to call attention to the wage issue at seven major airport hubs, including New York, Boston and Chicago — but not Minneapolis.