A group of 53 aircraft cabin cleaners at Portland International Airport has joined Service Employees (SEIU) Local 49. The workers are employees of Menzies Aviation, which has a contract to clean planes for Alaska Airlines as well as for its subsidiary Horizon Airlines and partner SkyWest Airlines. The tally was 14-0 for the union in an Aug. 16 election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). A majority of the workers had previously signed union cards.
Workers wanted to unionize because of concerns about safety, turnover, and the lack of a livable wage, said Local 49 spokesperson Jesse Stemmler in an email. Most workers in the group are paid minimum wage, and even lead cabin cleaners make just $12 to $14 an hour.
Menzies earlier tried to avoid the NLRB election by making legal arguments that the cabin cleaners should unionize under the Railway Labor Act, not the National Labor Relations Act. Under the Railway Labor Act, the workers would have had to unionize every location nationwide. But a federal administrative law judge rejected those arguments, and ruled that Menzies is not an airline, and that Alaska Airlines doesn’t directly oversee the work of Menzies employees.
SEIU represents Menzies workers at Los Angeles International Airport.