Airport wheelchair attendants for United added to union


As of last month, every wheelchair attendant at Portland International Airport belongs to a union.

On July 25, nearly 60 workers at airport contractor Bags, Inc. joined Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 49. The company voluntarily recognized the union after 70% of the workers presented signed union cards.

The workers provide wheelchair and baggage handling service to United Airlines passengers. They were the last group of non-union wheelchair attendants at the airport. Local 49 already represented the Bags workers who help Alaska Airlines passengers, as well as wheelchair attendants with Huntleigh USA, Prospect Airport Services, and G2 Secure Staff.

In total, Local 49 represents more than 400 airport service workers — including wheelchair attendants, baggage agents, cabin cleaners, and lavatory and water workers — under one master agreement. That contract expires Aug. 11, and workers are currently negotiating a successor agreement.

In the past, airport contractors have agreed to the “card check” method, where they voluntarily recognize Local 49 if a majority of their workers sign cards indicating they want to be represented by the union, said Local 49 spokesperson Scott Cheesewright. That’s even how Bags’ Alaska Airlines workers won representation. But the company for months refused to check the cards signed by the workers who helped United Airlines passengers. Union leaders suspect that a rally and “sit in” at the airport on June 28 changed managers’ minds. Just a week after the protest, the contractor agreed to count cards, Cheesewright said.

“It really seemed like the company was dug in, but folks took action to show they were not going to give up,” he said.

On July 26, the day after winning their union, the Bags United workers joined their colleagues at the bargaining table to submit a proposal enshrining their right to sit down while on shift. In April, Bags implemented a new policy prohibiting workers from sitting down while waiting for passengers. Repealing that policy is a big priority in negotiations, Cheesewright said.

Workers also want a contract that provides paid parking, affordable healthcare insurance, and additional paid time off. They returned to the bargaining table Aug. 1, after this issue went to press.


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