The airplane cleaning crew at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport whose fight with managers became the focus of a union-led protest earlier this week is back at work.
Two managers confronted and upbraided the seven-person crew, all Muslim and employees of U.S. Aviation Services Corp., which provides cleaning and other services for Delta Air Lines, for taking a short break last Friday night for prayers. The managers took their security badges and, according to the crew members, said they would be fired.
The company said the workers had not been fired but were told to go home and come back on Monday to discuss the conflict with higher-level managers.
On Monday, the workers told leaders of Service Employees International Union Local 26 that they believed they were fired for exercising their religious freedom. The union, which had already scheduled an event at MSP on Tuesday calling for higher wages for airport workers, turned it into a protest of the crew’s perceived firing. About 30 people attended the protest, which ended at a Delta office, where an executive told the union and workers to talk directly with U.S. Aviation.
On Wednesday, the seven workers met with managers at U.S. Aviation and were given their security badges back and resumed work. On Thursday, the SEIU released a statement announcing the development, called it a “big win” and reiterated a call for a $15 hourly minimum wage for workers at the airport.
A representative of U.S. Aviation later Thursday confirmed that the workers had returned to their jobs. “As U.S. Aviation had previously stated, the employees in question were never terminated,” he said.
The dispute emerged as SEIU Local 26 tries to win representation for U.S. Aviation’s operations at MSP. The union and company previously agreed the union can represent the workers if it can get a majority of the workers to support such representation.
U.S. Aviation, a unit of Chicago-based United Services Cos., last year won a contract to operate ground services, including cabin cleaning and baggage handling, at Delta’s operations at MSP, where it is the largest carrier.
SEIU Local 26 represented employees of the previous contractor that provided such services for Delta at the airport.