Airport workers' wage protest briefly hobbles MSP

Demonstrators at MSP airport
A crowd of demonstrators calling for a $15 an hour minimum wage briefly stopped traffic at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, Dec. 5, 2014.
Tim Nelson/MPR News

Traffic has returned to normal at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport after an afternoon rally at the main terminal where airport workers called for a $15 an hour minimum wage.

They picketed in front of the ticketing level entrance, then marched a short distance down the airport's entrance road, stopping traffic for about 10 minutes.

The rally featured baggage handler Kip Hedges, who said Delta Air Lines fired him after 26 years for speaking out about low wages. Delta said it was enforcing company policy fairly.

• NewsCut: Delta fires employee who called for higher minimum wage

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The demonstration diverted traffic to the airport parking ramp briefly. There were no arrests and the demonstration finished peacefully by 2 p.m.

The Metropolitan Airports Commission is looking at the wage issue, MAC executive director Jeff Hamiel said before the protest. Commission members earlier this month recommended worker protections to preserve employee wages from employer to employer.

Contractors come and go at the airport, and the MAC measure would prohibit new providers from resetting wages for people who'd worked for another licensed airport contractor. The agency will also consider requiring paid leave for contractor employees.

It's scheduled to take up the matter at its Dec. 15 meeting.

The rally was one of a series planned by airport workers and their supporters who are asking to be paid $15 an hour.

Airport workers and their supporters were arrested over the summer after blocking off the road leading to the drop-off area at the airport.

Randa Jama said she makes $8 an hour in her work as a wheelchair assistant for Air Serv, which she said is contracted by Delta.

"I have two kids and I'm pregnant now, and I was hoping that I could save up some money to buy a car, to buy things, but it's not enough," Jama said. "That is not enough to pay bills."

The rally was also supported by a number of other local unions.

"Poverty is affecting everything we do in this country," said Minnesota Nurses Association Executive Director Rose Roach. "And the nurses see the devastation of poverty every single day as we take care of patients at hospitals, and we know how important it is to support a living wage for our citizens."

DFL U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison was among the speakers supporting the unionization effort and Hedges' rehiring at the rally.

"We can go a day, a week, a month, without the CEO of Delta -- we actually don't need him," Ellison said. "But you try to go even a short period of time without the cleaners, and the drivers, and the bag handlers, and this whole place stops -- this whole place closes down. It's the workers that make this whole airport and this airline work."