Employees Offer To Hold A Vote On Union Membership 'Anytime'
A group representing the 450 workers of Aviation Safeguards – a contractor providing wheelchair, skycap, baggage handling and ticket verification for airlines at LAX – which left the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) a year ago, held a news conference Wednesday to inform travelers at LAX that they were not responsible for any travel disruptions caused by a union protest.
The employees called on the union leadership to back down from its threat to disrupt holiday travel on the busiest travel day of the year.
The employees allege that the union brought in outsiders who don't work at LAX to be part of a protest along Century Boulevard that could impact the ability of travelers to get to the airport. "We petitioned to leave the SEIU almost a year ago, and the contract ended. And now they're bringing in outsiders to block travelers who are just trying to get home for the holidays," said Frederick McNeil. "It's ridiculous. People need to understand that SEIU doesn't speak for the employees at Aviation Safeguards."
Recent media reports wrongly suggested that employees would be "walking off the job" on Wednesday. "That couldn't be further from the truth," said Andres Cazares, an Aviation Safeguards employee since 1993. "We have no beef with the company or the airport. Our beef is with the union. Most of the protesters (were) not even ... LAX workers. They don't work here and they don't know our company. The employees of Aviation Safeguards are planning to work, and we are extremely confident that our colleagues will be there for every shift."
Dissatisfied with the SEIU's representation, a majority of the company's employees signed petitions in December 2011 to leave the union. "We voted to cancel our agreement with SEIU because they took our money and did nothing for us," said Edgar Rivas, a security guard who has worked for Aviation Safeguards since 2006. "Now we earn more money, and have more health care options. Honestly, we're so glad to be free of SEIU."
SEIU officials questioned the validity of the employees' petition to decertify the union, even though union officials reviewed the petitions and never challenged them. The petitions were also reviewed by City officials. "We're happy to hold another election as long as it's independently run," said Chris Colmenares. "People need to know – and that includes all the politicians in City Hall – that the SEIU won't agree to an election because they know the outcome will not be favorable to them. We just wish the SEIU would leave us alone and let us do our job at the airport."
That sentiment is supported by senior management at the company. "Our employees are free to rejoin SEIU at any time," said Regional Vice President Joe Conlon. "We respect our employees' right to choose representation and would not stand in the way of a vote."
SEIU has had a troubled track record at LAX in recent years. Another contractor, Calop Aeroground Services, decertified the SEIU in 2010. A federal judge rejected SEIU's challenge to the decertification process. "Several more contracts, with other companies, are due to expire on November 30," said Ashley Atkinson, a dispatcher at Aviation Safeguards. "Wednesday's planned demonstration is designed to pressure contractors at LAX to sign SEIU agreements instead of letting workers choose. That's not democracy. It's the same old bullying."
Atkinson points out that employees at Aviation Safeguards immediately started taking home significantly more pay after the departure of SEIU. Collectively, it is estimated the employees will take home more than $2 million more a year in wages than they did while being represented by the union. As a result, the company will also pay $300,000 more per year in state and federal payroll taxes.
"It's really outrageous that the SEIU says things that just aren't true," said Sherly Varela, a screener at Aviation Safeguards since 2008. "They say that our company doesn't comply with the City's Living Wage Ordinance even though the documentation is there to prove them wrong. The union just didn't pay any attention to us." Employees at Aviation Safeguards want to assure the public that operations at the terminals where they work will be fully staffed if the protest proceeds. According to Jennifer Garcia, "We just wish the union and all the other outsiders would leave us alone, leave the travelers alone, and let us do our work."