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'It's a real struggle': Tampa airport service workers push for better pay, benefits

Union workers pushed for a $15 minimum wage and paid time off, among other benefits, through passage of the "Good Jobs for Good Airports Act."

TAMPA, Fla — Airport service workers are paying close attention to a bill that could raise their minimum wage and provide more benefits.

If passed by Congress, the “Good Jobs for Good Airports Act" would increase their salaries to $15 an hour and provide paid time off, among other benefits.

Airport service workers from Florida 32BJ SEIU spoke at Tampa International Airport, urging lawmakers to pass the bill.

"It's not enough," skycap Anthony Sanders said. "Everything went up. So it's just...a real struggle."

The union represents contracted workers providing passenger services on the ground, which consists of ramp workers, baggage handlers, wheelchair, lavatory workers, security officers, cabin cleaners and some customer service agents. 

Workers said flying through any destination wouldn't be possible without some of the services they provide. However, workers say they're not getting paid enough to survive with $10 an hour. 

Sanders said he's on his second day back on the job as a skycap. He recently got a blood clot on his leg due to high blood pressure and said he has no choice but to work.

He said he's now having to live with a friend after being forced to move out of his apartment because he can't afford it.

“It's not a radical proposal. It's the way America should work. We should have good jobs and our good airports should have good jobs," Helene O'Brien, Florida director for 32BJ SEIU, explained. 

Union workers said they're pushing for airlines to set better working conditions for them. If not, they hope they'll be forced to through the bill's passage. 

Sanders said he sends some of his income to his daughters in New York. He worries he'll need to leave Tampa if the bill doesn't pass.

"He has a blood clot in his leg, no insurance, and he can't even stay home. He has to keep coming to work. It is outrageous in the United States of America," O'Brien said.

Workers believe it's about fair treatment, especially after having to continue working through the brunt of the pandemic in 2020 and the current staffing shortages the industry faces. 

Union workers got the chance to share their stories with Congresswoman Val Demings, who toured TPA. 

Aside from more pay and paid time off, according to the union, the bill would also:

  • Require commercial airport recipients of federal assistance to certify they will ensure the airport service workers are paid no less than the wages and benefits required for federally contracted workers under the Service Contract Act (SCA) or no less than a local minimum wage that is higher than the wage and benefits under the SCA.
  • Add accountability to the public resources being invested in airports to ensure our airports are safer and more secure by lowering turnover and increasing the number of trained frontline workers.

10 Tampa Bay reached out to Sen. Rick Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio's offices for comment about the bill along with several airlines but have not heard back.

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