On February 13th, food and retail workers at BWI Thurgood Marshall airport in Baltimore attempted to deliver an oversized copy of their airport workers’ Bill of Right to representatives of private management company AirMall USA, but were turned away.
In 2004, AirMall entered into an exclusive contract with the State of Maryland to operate concessions at BWI, the terms of which required significant renovations to the facility. To date, those renovations that have been completed have contributed to increased profits and passenger traffic, but have yet to positively affect airport food concessions workers. According to “From the Counter to the Community,” a report released today by Unite Here, “[BWI] Concessions workers were concentrated in neighborhoods that faced at least an average poverty rate of 32% in 2010.”
Current BWI workers report high levels of turnover, lack of access to health care, and wages that are often not high enough to meet even basic needs. “From the Counter to the Community” reveals that the $15,912 annual salary of a concessions worker at BWI is not sufficient to cover housing expenses alone in the City of Baltimore, where median annual rent amounts to over $16,000. Low wages also force many workers to rely on health care and public assistance programs, which cost the State of Maryland $2.36 million annually for BWI concessions workers alone.
“I love my job,” said Jasmine Jones, who has worked at the airport for nearly two years, “I work hard for what little money I’m getting, but it’s not enough. Sometimes I don’t know whether to pay rent or put food on my table.”
After being turned away from the AirMall offices, airport worker Yaseen Abdul-Malik read from a statement he had prepared to deliver to company officials.
"The economic inequality is not only unacceptable, but will no longer be tolerated not only from our employers, but my AirMall in general," he read, "Dr. Martin Luther King once said, ‘A man can’t ride your back unless it’s bent. Today, we’re standing up."
The Bill of Rights unveiled on Wednesday seeks to address issues faced by airport workers by guaranteeing all food and retail workers at BWI four basic rights, including the right to respect and a workplace free from discrimination and harassment, the right to job security, the right to join a union in a neutral environment, and the right to work full-time for fair wages and benefits.
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