More than 90% of the LAX workers who provide services to tens of thousands of passengers each day-those who load baggage, check tickets, clean the planes, sanitize airplane restrooms, exchange cabin pillows and blankets, assist wheelchair bound passengers, and do security work-have authorized a strike after years of sacrificing and putting up with deplorable conditions.
Many of the men and women who hold these critical jobs which insure the safety and comfort of the air-traveling public are African American and Latino alike. Their and our well-being is now at stake. So too is the economic vitality of the communities where they live and contribute through consumer spending, revenues for local stores, municipalities, and schools.
Here’s the problem: the airlines have taken what were once decent middle-class jobs and downsized them into poverty-wage jobs. Major carriers such as United, American, Southwest, and others have outsourced critical passenger service duties as a way of cutting costs. In their zeal for cheap labor, the airlines have turned to low-bid contractors, who not only mistreat workers but do little to guarantee the training, oversight and accountability necessary to ensure a high level of security and service for passengers.
Conditions among passenger service workers now resemble those in other low-wage industries. A study by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy found that service workers at LAX earn less than $19,000 a year, while only three percent have affordable family health care. Not surprisingly, turnover is sky high, which means that the airlines are relying on a largely inexperience workforce to perform critical security and service duties.
The human toll on the workers is appalling. Mr. Henry Watts, a skycap, says that “after 20 years of working for the airlines, I was stunned to find out that they were taking away a big part of my income. The airlines can always invent new fees to add on to passengers to stay profitable, but when I go to the gas station or the grocery store, how am I supposed to make ends meet?”
The airlines claim that they can’t afford better wages because of the current crisis brought on by high oil prices. What they don’t mention is that the public through tax subsidies has given the airlines billions of dollars, yet in return, wages are poor and jobs and services inadequate.
Industry analysts agree that the rapid decline in passenger service is linked to the poor treatment of workers. “Across the airline experience, from check-in, to the flight, to deplaning, passengers are being affected by the ramifications of carriers making staff cutbacks and have expressed that performance and attitudes of airline staff are suffering,” said Sam Thanawalla, director of the global hospitality and travel practice at J.D. Power and Associates. “In this unstable industry environment, it is critical that airlines invest in their employees as a means to enhance the customer experience, as there is a strong connection between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction.” Hence, it’s no secret that when workers are treated well, service quality is greatly enhanced. In the case of the airlines, this is not merely a luxury – the safety of millions of travelers depends on a well-trained, well-motivated, and well-compensated workforce.