Disability Rights Advocates Among 13 Arrested in Civil Disobedience at MSP Airport

Action followed calls at Metropolitan Airports Commission public meeting for better conditions for sub-contracted Delta workers and the passengers they serve

Minneapolis, MN – 13 people, including leaders in the disability rights community, community activists, and SEIU Local 26 President Javier Morillo-Alicea were arrested today at the Minneapolis-St. Paul  (MSP) International Airport in an act of peaceful civil disobedience. The arrestees were highlighting the poor conditions facing passengers with disabilities and elderly travelers, a consequence of the poverty wages and lack of resources provided to the workers sub-contracted by Delta Airlines to provide wheelchair and electric cart service.

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Before the protest in the airport, which culminated with the act of civil disobedience, over 100 workers, community members, and leaders from disability rights organization ADAPT gathered at the monthly public meeting of the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC). Speakers called on the MAC to address these troubling issues and make the MSP airport one that works for everyone, not just rich corporations like Delta.

Speaking at the MAC hearing, and also getting arrested in the protest, was Darrell Paulsen, a Maplewood resident and leader in ADAPT.

“My wife Nikki is here today and also taking part in peaceful civil disobedience, and her story highlights why this issue is so important. When she was pregnant with our daughter she was dropped as she was bring transferred from her chair to her seat on the airplane. Do you feel that is OK? Would you think it was OK if it happened to your family?,” Paulsen asked the MAC commissioners at the pubic hearing. “When Delta makes nearly $3 billion in profits last year, but refuses to invest in the workers whose job it is to make sure my family have a safe experience flying, it speaks volumes to where their values really are. Do you, as leaders of the MAC, believe your mission is to assist Delta in making unlimited profits, or do you believe your mission is to make this airport one that allows for a safe and dignified experience for all travelers? If you believe in dignity, it is time for you to take action.”

Also speaking was John Graham, a retiree who has experienced the results that are caused by Delta sub-contractors under-staffing workers at MSP.

“As a passenger, after I clear TSA, if I’m going any distance at all, I need a cart and I often can’t find one.  I have sat on the bench where I was supposed to be, but had to wait so long that I wondered if I was in the wrong place,” said Graham.  “At other times, there have been too many passengers waiting that we can’t all fit in one cart.  And that’s not a good feeling when you see the cart drive off and you are left behind hoping that another one will come by soon. People my age get very nervous and stressed about that, and that shouldn’t happen.  There should be enough carts to serve all the passengers who need one.  ”

Until recently, in Delta’s own internal audits of the ten largest Delta airports around the country, Minneapolis-St. Paul was consistently number nine or number ten in the quality of its service to passengers with disabilities, based on the level of disability-related complaints.  One of the main problems according to Delta was that the company that Delta contracted with would “send one wheelchair pusher for three or four people that might need service off the airplane. Last fall Delta hired a new contractor to improve services and announced that the contractor would provide a “one-for-one push,” meaning one attendant for each passenger who requires assistance.  However, workers report that this is not the case.

Wheelchair agent Darcy Landau is one of several hundred non-union workers who are paid $7.25 an hour with no benefits and are currently attempting to organize with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 26. Landau spoke about the challenges that workers sub-contracted by Delta face every single day.

“Because of understaffing, at times I have to decide whether to wait there until other wheelchairs arrive or just take one passenger. But passengers get upset at me if I just take one person. They get frustrated. It makes them feel like they’re not important, and that’s not right.” said Landau. “I have worked at the airport for almost seven years and for over a year now as a wheelchair agent serving Delta passengers. I love my job and the service I provide, but I am embarrassed about the way we treat passengers and how long they have to wait for wheelchairs and carts. It’s time for this commission to stand with workers and passengers and finally take action.”

Last week, a report titled Able, But Not Willing was released that highlighted Delta’s continued failure to provide adequate service to travelers with disabilities. After the protest, the group pledged to continue fighting until the MAC and Delta finally make MSP an airport that works for everyone, not just rich corporations like Delta.

 

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SEIU Local 26 is Minnesota’s Property Services Union, uniting more than 6,000 janitors, security officers, and window cleaners in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. SEIU unites more than 225,000 property services workers nationally, and over 2.1 million including workers in healthcare and the public sector.

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