Citing insufficient pay, airport workers call for union

Maintenance workers at Bob Hope Airport took the first step toward unionizing Wednesday after a petition was filed on their behalf with the National Labor Relations Board.

The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 501 filed the petition after meeting with 35 maintenance workers at the airport for weeks. The National Labor Relations Board will contact TBI Airport Management Inc., which operates the airport, and schedule a meeting between management and union representatives in the next few weeks, said Gavin Koon, a union representative.

A main grievance among the workers is that they are not paid prevailing wages, despite a stipulation in their contract with TBI calling for that.

They also earn less when compared to similar jobs at other airports, according to a wage survey they compiled in July.

The Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority, composed of representatives from the three cities, oversees the airport. TBI, which is based in Sanford, Fla., handles the airport’s day-to-day operations through a contract.

Victor Gill, a spokesman for the airport, declined to comment on the petition.

Koon said there are two ways to form a union — voluntarily and involuntarily.

In a voluntary arrangement, management sits down with union representatives and agrees to recognize the outcome of a union vote without an outside party's involvement.

Koon said he contacted TBI officials, but they were not interested in working voluntarily with the union.

That prompted the petition to the National Labor Relations Board showing that at least 30% of the workers have indicated they would like to have Local 501 represent them.

When airport officials and union representatives meet, they will determine which employees can be represented, Koon said. He has requested all 35 employees in the maintenance department be unionized, but said some of them may be taken off the list.

After an eligibility list is negotiated, the labor board will hold a secret-ballot vote within 30 days, Koon said. A majority of eligible workers must vote in favor of a union to form. If the vote fails, union representatives cannot meet with airport maintenance workers for a year.

After the workers sent their wage survey to TBI officials in July, Dan Feger, the airport’s executive director, responded with a letter asking the workers to be patient and consider the state of the economy.

“While a number of public agencies [including the agencies you cite in your letter] often have paid higher wages and offered different benefits, they are now struggling to continue to provide that higher level of compensation,” Feger stated in his letter. “And in a number of cases, employees at these same agencies are now facing layoffs, pay reductions, additional employee retirement contributions and furloughs.”

He also noted that TBI and the airport authority have maintained staffing levels, provided cost-of-living increases and absorbed rising insurance costs.

The airport has been struggling with declining airline passenger traffic for several months. For the past four months, passenger numbers have dropped below budget projections.

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