Airport employees protest MWAA for paid sick days
22 state lawmakers sent authority a letter in June advocating for paid sick leave
About 40 people protested Thursday outside of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority headquarters in Arlington, calling for paid sick leave for workers at the state’s two Northern Virginia airports who have not received emergency sick days under federal coronavirus legislation.
MWAA governs the Reagan National Airport in Arlington and the Washington Dulles International Airport in Loudoun County.
A group of Dulles Airport workers, joined by a Fairfax County supervisor and community supporters, stood outside the MWAA office at noon Thursday, calling for paid sick days in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has hit the airline industry particularly hard. Most employees at the airlines do not have access to paid sick leave, according to union representatives. They added that many groups wanted to attend Thursday’s protest but that they limited the number to prevent spread of the virus.
In a June 10 letter to MWAA President and CEO John Potter and members of the authority’s board of directors, 22 state senators and delegates, all Democrats, called for the authority to adopt policies granting paid sick leave and recall from layoffs by seniority.
“As you know, when adopting the Airport Workers Wage Policy in 2017 and updating it in 2019, the MWAA board declined to mandate paid sick leave for contracted airport service workers,” the letter reads. “Furthermore, the Federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act granted emergency sick days to many workers but excluded employers with more than 500 employees, which means the vast majority of airport and airline service workers at DCA and IAD have no access to paid sick days.”
The lawmakers advocated for MWAA to “act now to protect travelers and to help these vulnerable workers,” and also mandate that employers, including airlines, recall laid-off workers by seniority.
Since March, hundreds of employees at the two airports have been laid off or furloughed due to an extreme reduction in flights during the pandemic. Swissport laid off 479 people in June at Dulles, and United Airlines notified the Virginia Employment Commission last month that it may lay off more than 3,100 employees at the two airports by Oct. 1. According to MWAA, domestic commercial flights decreased by 82.1% in June at Reagan, compared to June 2019, and by 84.4% at Dulles. International travel at Dulles decreased by 95.8%, the authority reported.
The $2.2 trillion federal CARES Act allocated $32 billion in federal payroll support to airlines, but major airlines have begun to cut tens of thousands of jobs as the aid is expected to expire in October.
According to the Service Employees International Union’s Washington-Baltimore regional chapter, SEIU 32BJ, at least 70 Reagan National Airport workers were exposed to COVID-19 because of an outbreak at an Alexandria church in early August. “For weeks, workers with no sick days have [had] to make the choice between going without pay and showing up to work at the airport sick,” the union’s statement said.
The Alexandria Health Department issued a self-quarantine advisory last week for anyone who attended Kidane Mehret Church in the city between Aug. 14-17, saying that visitors to the Ethiopian Eastern Orthodox church on those dates could have been exposed to the virus and should quarantine themselves for two weeks.
MWAA, in response, issued a statement Thursday that “it is not currently aware of any of its employees who are self-quarantining due to a possible exposure at a place of worship in Alexandria. All badged airport employees are not permitted to come to work if they are experiencing COVID-related symptoms or if they are notified by the Department of Health of a potential exposure. In addition, badged employees are required to follow their employer’s own COVID policies.
“The Airports Authority Board of Directors is determining the best course of action within the bounds of Virginia and federal law regarding the request for sick leave and held a listening session with worker representatives earlier in August.”
The board is scheduled to meet next on Sept. 16.