On Tuesday, Ibrahim Mohamed will record two firsts for the Metropolitan Airports Commission, when the East African immigrant and airport worker takes a seat on the panel.
"They say it's a historic appointment," said the low-key Mohamed, who drives an airport cart at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. "I'm the first East African with this title. This is meaningful to everybody — employees, East Africans and my county, Dakota County."
Mohamed, of Rosemount, and former flight attendant Dixie Hoard, of Thief River Falls, will take up their duties Tuesday on the MAC, which operates MSP and six other metro-area general aviation airports. Their four-year appointments were announced last week by Gov. Mark Dayton.
Mohamed, 35, works for AirServ, a subcontractor to Delta Air Lines. He has worked at MSP for 11 years, with assignments in many areas over that time, including baggage and ticketing. He also drove a truck while assigned to empty the toilets and refill the water systems on airliners.
Spokesmen for the MAC and the Service Employees International Union Local 26 both said Mohamed is the first commission member who is an airport employee, as well as the first Somali-American.
"His work at the airport will provide a valuable perspective for the commission," Dayton said, "focusing greater attention on the needs and concerns of the thousands of Minnesotans who work at the airport every day."
As a cart driver, Mohamed said he hears firsthand from many passengers about their experiences at the airport and with the airlines.
"I am excited to bring the voices of the people that I speak to on a daily basis to the MAC," he said. "I speak with hundreds of elderly and disabled passengers each day. I hear about their time in MSP and am the first line of response to help."
Speaking for workers
Mohamed said he is particularly looking forward to speaking up for the hundreds of airport workers making minimum wage.
"I've made up to $12.50 at various positions, but currently make minimum wage, which just went up in August to $8 per hour," he said. "I will work to make sure that workers at the airport are part of the conversations at the MAC."
SEIU Local 26 President Javier Morillo issued a statement applauding Dayton's move. "I am excited to see Ibrahim continue the work he has always done fighting to make the MSP airport the best airport it can possibly be for both employees and passengers."
The SEIU and other groups, operating as the 15 Now coalition, have been lobbying the MAC to increase the minimum wage and afford low-wage workers other benefits. SEIU also has been campaigning to organize AirServ workers at the airport. Recently, the MAC voted to enact a sick-day policy for several companies that do business at MSP.
The 15 Now organization was founded earlier this year in Seattle. There are 15 chapters nationwide, and efforts have focused on the fast-food industry and airports.
Mohamed came to the Twin Cities from war-torn Somalia after his sister settled here. A father of five, he said he and his wife, who works part time at a day-care center, struggle to make ends meet. He said he has not yet met Dayton, "but I hope to, very soon."
Professional backgrounds among commissioners lean heavily white collar and include politics, law, public affairs, aviation services and business development.
MAC Chairman Daniel Boivin said the commissioners are "excited to get someone on the worker level and hear what's going on."
Boivin added that having a Somali-American on the panel also is important because "our employee base is very big with the immigrant community."
Hoard, a former flight attendant and purser, said she intends to be a voice for passengers who live in the state's sparsely populated areas.
"I flew for the airlines for almost 30 years" with Northwest and then Delta, until taking an early retirement package about two years ago, Hoard said. "I saw a lot of what worked and didn't work in the rural areas."
Dayton said Hoard "will bring important airline experience to the commission and will help represent the needs and concerns of travelers and businesses in greater Minnesota."
For their time as commissioners, Mohamed and Hoard will be paid the standard $50 a meeting. Hoard and the other commissioners from outside the Twin Cities also have their travel expenses reimbursed.