On the Picket Line

Airport cleaners, SEIU 32BJ rally in Pittsburgh

By Candace Wagner
March 18, 2024

PITTSBURGH —Aircraft cleaners and other workers at Jetstream Ground Services at the airport here are organizing to get better conditions and an end to boss harassment. On Feb. 23, members of Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ took a bus to the airport to support them.

Some 40 union supporters gathered to hear Godfrey Baker and Mark Palmer, with a year and a half and nine years respectively at Jetstream, read a petition to the company signed by 70% of the 60 workers. They are demanding: “Respect our right to organize for better treatment on the job; ensure no discrimination and harassment in the workplace; provide an adequate number of uniforms.”

Management later refused to accept the petition from workers as they headed into work. Five airport workers described to the gathering the conditions they face on the job and why they need a union.

“This event was really successful, a lot better than I expected,” Baker told the Militant. “We need better wages and respect. These bosses are really abusive.” Baker had told the crowd how a supervisor had used a racist term to describe him. Baker and his co-workers protested, and that supervisor was fired.

“The company announced the day before Christmas in 2016 that they were ‘overstaffed and underbudgeted’ and laid off a lot of workers,” Palmer said. “And then they did that again recently. They have less of us doing more work.”

“This was a very powerful event,” said Pete Schmidt, a representative for 32BJ here. “Our members attended to show that other workers want to fight for what we have fought for and won. Being part of this invigorates us.” Local 32BJ members in Pittsburgh work as commercial and campus building cleaners.

“I came to support the airport workers fight to get what they deserve,” 32BJ cleaner Jantell Rounds said on the bus on the way home to Pittsburgh. Her husband, Charles Rounds, took the day off from work to come with her. “This is my first protest,” he said. “I want to learn what it will take to organize a union in the factory where I work.”