Ten thousand American Airlines workers protest low pay, corporate greed
Airport workers protest poverty wages, courtesy SEIU

CHARLOTTE, N.C. —Contrasting their low pay of $14 an hour or less with the high cash shoveled onto American Airlines’ CEO–$15,000 an hour—10,000 workers, cabin cleaners, and their colleagues, took to picket lines on June 4, ahead of the carrier’s stockholders meeting.

The cabin cleaners, baggage handlers, wheelchair attendants, security officers, and cargo handlers, all organized with Airport Workers United, a Service Employees affiliate, also e-mailed and leafletted for public support in their drive for living wages and health care coverage. Their campaign features the hashtag #povertydoesntflyaction. Their public protest lasted at least three days.

The workers contend the Texas-based carrier can exercise corporate clout to force subcontractors it hires—who in turn employ the workers to clean the planes, load and carry the bags, and push the wheelchairs—to meet their demands for ending poverty wages, providing health care and recognizing their union. The protest coincided with American’s annual stockholders’ meeting in Fort Worth, Texas.

The airport workers are yet another group of underpaid, overworked, exploited employees whose wages and working conditions have driven them to rebel by taking a hike, unionizing, or both.

Similar economically oppressed workers include adjunct professors, port dockworkers, Starbucks workers, Amazon workers, retail workers, and fast food workers. All are telling corporate chieftains they’ve had it up to here and won’t take it anymore.

The workers declare airline execs, including American’s CEO, Robert Isom, either ignore or downgrade the people who keep airline cabins clean and sanitary, who pick up your luggage and deliver it to airport conveyor belts, or who push your wheelchair when you can’t walk. Most of the poorly paid workers are migrants, women, workers of color, or combinations of those groups.

Their case is especially true when contrasted with the tsunami of cash and stock options company boards shovel into CEO pockets. At American, the AFL-CIO’s Executive Paywatch reports the most recent combined pay and compensation figure for Isom totaled $4.89 million in fiscal 2022.

Trapped in poverty-level jobs

Picketing workers at Charlotte, N.C., International Airport told local TV newscasters that they’re “siloed in poverty-level jobs” while the carrier commits itself to “corporate greed and a stubborn commitment to exorbitant CEO pay in the midst of slowing growth and poor business decisions.”

“I’m a trash truck driver at Charlotte’s airport and much of my day is spent servicing American Airlines,” Charlotte worker Lashonda Barber e-mailed, seeking public support. “My body is paying for the long days of hauling trash. I work crazy hours to stay afloat but also because we don’t have the staff to cover more hours. We’re so understaffed I sometimes have to fill in as a cabin cleaner too.

“American Airlines pays its CEO $15,000 an hour while many service workers are paid just $14 an hour. American is also consistently leading in passenger inconveniences that YOU as a traveler regularly have to deal with. American Airlines isn’t meeting anyone’s expectations!”

The workers also took to Twitter, now renamed X by one of the greediest capitalists who bought it, Elon

Musk, to air their case. Despite Musk’s worker hate and labor law-breaking, and his dictates to change X’s feed and postings, the workers’ tweets haven’t been taken down yet. Some were:

“American Airlines’ CEO makes $15,000 an HOUR while cabin cleaners who make air travel possible struggle to survive. Tell American Airlines to make traveling better for you and to ensure its service providers END poverty wages for workers TODAY. #PovertyDoesntFlyaction.airportworkersunited.org

“American Airlines is leading the way in: Mishandled Baggage, Unfair Bag Fees, and Disability Complaints. We’re done being underpaid and disrespected. Share to show you’re with us!

“Workers are demanding: Fair pay, Healthcare Workers’ rights, AND FOR CORPORATIONS TO LISTEN UP. Corporations give millions to their #GreedyCEOs while service workers, like the airport workers you see cleaning plane cabins, are left with pennies. ENOUGH. Today at #CLT and across the country they’re taking action!”

CLT is the federal airport code for Charlotte International Airport, one of American Airlines’s hubs.

“Everywhere you look, @americanair’s frontline Workers are doing more with less. @GoodAirports Workers — Baggage Handlers, Wheelchair Agents, Cabin Cleaners, and more — this airline couldn’t run without you. #1u” another tweet reminded travelers, and bosses.

And a Facebook posting reinforced Lashonda Barber’s point: They’re workers of color.

“Ahead of @AmericanAir annual shareholder meeting, contracted airport service workers DEMAND: END poverty wages, RESPECT the right to form a union, UNDO racist legacies that keep Black, brown, & immigrant workers in low-paid jobs Tell AA #PovertyDoesntFly!”


Press Associates
Press Associates

Press Associates Inc. (PAI), is a union news service in Washington D.C. Mark Gruenberg is the editor.