Portland airport shop workers want a union too

Pro-union workers and supporters set up a brief informational picket Feb. 18 at the Portland airport.
Pro-union workers and supporters set up a brief informational picket Feb. 18 at the Portland airport.

Another group of low-wage workers at Portland International Airport (PDX) is seeking to unionize.

UNITE HERE Local 8 organizer Shellea Allen says more than two thirds of a group of 45 employees of the multinational corporation World Duty Free Group have signed union cards. The World Duty Free Group employees staff four shops at PDX: Kiehl’s, Rich’s News, The Oregonian, and The Market.

On Feb. 18, pro-union workers and supporters presented a demand to local management that the company recognize their choice to unionize, and they set up a brief informational picket at the airport. The company declined to respond.

The workers want more regular schedules, affordable health care, and wage increases, Allen said. Currently their wages range from Oregon’s $9.25 minimum wage to a little over $10 an hour. World Duty Free Group has over 500 stores in 20 countries, and specializes in airport sales of fragrance, wine and spirits, cosmetics, food, travel accessories and souvenirs.

UNITE HERE represents World Duty Free workers at the Detroit, Oakland, and San Jose airports.

The effort to unionize World Duty Free is part of a larger fight to improve wages and conditions for airport service workers. Last September, the multinational food concessions company HMS Host agreed to recognize UNITE HERE Local 8 as the representative of its 176 PDX employees at Starbucks Coffee, Gustav’s Pub & Grill, Rogue Ales Public House, and Rose’s Restaurant and Bakery. Gustav’s later closed when airport managers cancelled its lease, but the union is bargaining a first contract for the remaining workers.

The World Duty Free shops used to be staffed by HMS Host, but the company sold its retail division to World Duty Free and kept its food service division.

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