By MALLORY GRUBEN
About three dozen union supporters on June 28 rallied at Portland International Airport to ask an airport contractor to reinstate workers’ right to sit. Two months ago, Bags Inc., a wheelchair service provider, imposed a new policy that bars workers from sitting down while on shift. Workers were told it looks “unprofessional” if they aren’t standing at the ticket counter while waiting for passengers, said Sergi Zalutskiy, an attendant who helps Alaska Airlines passengers get to their terminals.
Some Bags Inc. workers report walking up to 10 miles per day. About 125 of them — those who help Alaska passengers — are represented by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 49. Another 35 workers who help United Airlines passengers have asked to organize with Local 49; Bags Inc. has not voluntarily recognized the group.
For about 30 minutes, several Bags Inc. workers picketed on the sidewalk near the public transit drop-off lanes for departure — along with several dozen supporters from SEIU Local 49, Machinists Lodge 1005, Teamsters Local 162, Oregon Nurses Association, Oregon Education Association, Portland Jobs with Justice, and Portland Democratic Socialists of America. The group urged Bags Inc. to scrap the no sitting policy, recognize Local 49 as the bargaining representative for United Airlines wheelchair attendants, and provide better pay and healthcare benefits in its second contract with the Alaska workers, who start bargaining this month. After the sidewalk picket, the group marched inside for a “sit-in” near the United Airlines ticket counter, bringing camp chairs, brightly decorated seats, a purple velvet “throne,” and a five-gallon Home Depot bucket. Zaluskiy said some workers now use the buckets to sit on their breaks instead of Bags-prohibited chairs.
The sit-in ended abruptly at 3 p.m. when an airport security guard announced their “free speech permit” had been revoked because they violated its terms by protesting inside the airport. But they’d only planned to rally for an hour, so they said they’d leave peacefully, having made their point.