Over 30 East African workers represented by SEIU Local 26 were let go from their jobs as Queue Line and Baggage Porters at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport (MSP). Their work contributed to  MSP running smoothly and earning various distinctions. 

At the start of June with less than a week notice a new contractor, Innovative Handling Solutions (IHS), replaced the Black workers with majority white workers. IHS not only displaced these Black workers but also the decades of service, experience, and customer service they prided themselves on. 

SEIU is arguing that IHS’s move was in violation of the Minneapolis Airport Commission’s (MAC) own rules regarding employe retention when there is a transition to a new contractor.

Statement prepared by workers in preparation for last Monday’s MAC commission meeting conveys their, angst, frustration and bewilderment. 

Ayele Teklab has worked at MSP for over 8 years. 

 “I am a father of three children and have bills to pay. When they switched contractors, I wasn’t worried at all about keeping my job, as I’ve always had great feedback from the customers we help here. This airport is successful because of the workers who make it run, and now we were brushed aside. We’ve given so much to this airport. We should be talking about how longtime employees should be getting rewarded, not kicked out of the jobs we have done for decades. Fix this. Fix this now.” 

Amid the nationwide fight for $15, East African workers among others fought for years to increase wages at MSP. Instead of bearing the fruits of their work, IHS started the mostly new white workforce at $15 an hour. 

Glen Brown has been a wheelchair assistant driver at MSP for almost four years. His time at MSP has been frustrating. While he has noticed that airlines make billion his wage has been, “right around $10.65 per hour.”  

“I am angry and disappointed with what I see happening with the Queue Line and Porter workers. I am ready for action on raising wages, but I hope you don’t let contractors discriminate against workers of color when we finally win wage increases.”

Mengistu Leamar was at MSP for over 20 years having worked, “every job you could imagine” and had been entrusted with being a lead and trainer.

“I’ve put my heart and soul into this airport, and yet I still am in this position. I am both sad and mad that we are being treated this way. It is not right that workers with hundreds of years of experience have been banished overnight. And I can’t help but notice that the dedicated workers who lost their jobs all look like me, and most of the people who got the jobs don’t look like me. Right as we start winning higher wages at the airport, suddenly we aren’t good enough for these jobs? This isn’t just wrong, this is discrimination.”

The prior contractor, G2, was a union employer. IHS is a new company. According to public fillings it was registered in September 2017. IHS is a non-union employer. 

 At the MAC Commission meeting SEIU Local 26 President Iris Altamirano testified that addressing this wrong is “the one action that this body can take to shake the perception that one has to be a white to make $15 at the airport” further explaining to the commissioners that IHS, “played all of you into union busting.”

Commissioner Hoard, pointed out that perhaps the East African workers didn’t get an opportunity to keep their jobs through IHS because of language barriers. She pointed out that the airport offers English classes. 

SEIU 26 political director Sarah Lopez responded forcefully.

“As a non-native speaker of English, I know that accents sometimes might come across as not having a full command of English. For our workers, most of them have been working for 7,10, 15 years. So the command of the English language was just used as an excuse to displace workers of color, and to us, that is just appalling. I just want to make sure that that narrative ends now, right now. English was not a concern.”

After further deliberation commissioners proposed creating a task force to address labor issues including;  labor retention, wage issues, labor harmony, and neutrality. 

Their first meeting will be held on Monday, July 1, 2019, at 10:30 a.m inside Terminal 1. 

IHS could not be reached for comment. 

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