American Airlines workers push to observe MLK Day
Some 20,000 workers at American Airlines are fighting for their right to observe Martin Luther King Day — a benefit already given to most of the airline’s other employees.
At airports across the country, thousands of American Airlines mechanics, baggage handlers and ground workers can’t get Jan. 15 as a recognized holiday, according to Transport Workers Union Local 501, which is based in New York.
Yet the birthday of the slain civil rights leader is observed by the airline’s 90,000 other workers, said Local 501 executive vice president Angelo Cucuzza.
American Airlines also compensates and recognizes the MLK holiday for other employees doing the same jobs who worked for US Airways prior to the merger between the two carriers in 2012 — but not for those employees who came from the original American Airlines, the union said, calling it a “classic example of unequal pay for equal work.”
Michael J. Quill, the president of TWU, meets Martin Luther King, Jr.
(Courtesy of the TWU Archive)
TWU has been in contract negotiations with American Airlines for more than two years, but the company has not yet recognized the MLK holiday for the small group of employees who remain without it, the union said.
“American Airlines paints an internal corporate picture about inclusion, diversity and the value of respect,” Cucuzza said.
“Those are just words that the corporate executives like to use to try to improve the company’s image, and MLK Day is nothing more than a bargaining chip to them.”
The life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Last year, a record 43% of employers in the United States provided a paid day off for MLK Day, according to an annual Bloomberg BNA survey.
It was a notable increase from the previous all-time high of 37% recorded in each of the past two years.
Bloomberg has conducted the survey every year since MLK’s birthday became a national holiday. President Reagan signed MLK Day into law in 1983.
One of the20,000 American Airlines baggage handlers who doesn’t get Martin Luther King Day as a recognized holiday.
TWU has a long history participating in the civil rights movement.
In 1960, TWU established a fund to help pay bail for anti-segregation protestors arrested in the South. King spoke at TWU’s national convention in 1961.
American Airlines said it was working to resolve the disparity in benefits.
“We recognize there is a discrepancy between our TWU-repped members and (other) team members with regard to the number of holidays and the rate at which they are paid for holidays. It doesn’t feel right for part of our team to be paid for a holiday while others are contractually ineligible for it,” an airline spokesman said.
“That’s why we included MLK as a paid day for everyone in a comprehensive proposal we put forward in July. The union has yet to respond to that proposal,” he added.