A group of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport cabin cleaners staged a spontaneous walkout Tuesday evening, protesting low wages and the recent firing of at least eight co-workers.
The Metropolitan Airports Commission recommended this month raising the minimum wage at MSP by $1 — to $10 an hour — on Aug. 1, when the Minnesota minimum wage rises to $9, and to $10.50 an hour in August 2016, when the state wage rises again.
The Service Employees International Union, which has been pushing MAC for a $15-an-hour pay floor at the airport, contends that a $1 raise isn’t enough to provide workers with a living wage.
The workers who walked out on Tuesday were nonunionized Air Serv subcontractor cabin cleaners, said Eden Yosief, an organizer for SEIU, which is advocating on behalf of airport workers.
About 45 protesters left their jobs around 4:30 p.m., heading to an administrative building where they picketed for about 90 minutes, officials said. Police were called, but no arrests were made.
The pickets returned to work after Air Serv management agreed to meet with disgruntled workers on Wednesday, Yosief said. They were not told why eight to 10 workers were let go; however, SEIU officials say they believe the terminations are related to their “refusal to perform mandatory overtime work.”
MAC spokesman Patrick Hogan said he was not aware of any firings, but admitted he may not be privy to that information. “I’m not sure why this occurred,” he said.
Hogan said he was unaware of any flight delays as a result of the peaceful protest, but was not sure how it may have affected Air Serv operations. The 45 workers represented a fraction of the several hundred cabin cleaners at the airport.
Employees of airport subcontractors have largely opposed the $1 raise proposal, with many saying they must work two jobs and share housing with other people in order to make ends meet. But after changes to the wage proposal came up at a May 18 MAC meeting, SEIU officials are no longer urging a “no” vote.
If passed, about 2,800 airport workers would be covered by the new wage requirement. Representatives of airline and business groups favor keeping the same minimum wage as the rest of the state.
The commission plans to vote on the proposal in June.