Kwaku Agyeman, a resident of Alexandria, spoke with US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg about the struggle of airport workers for paid sick leave and health care from the MWAA. Photo contributed
In the wake of the Biden administration’s decision to redesignate Haiti for Temporary Protected Status (TPS)U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Mary Kay Henry, international president of the two million-member International Union of Service Employees (SEIU), held a roundtable on immigration on Tuesday with airport workers in 32BJ SEIU at the national airport (DCA).
Many workers in Washington, DC, Philadelphia, New York, Fort Lauderdale, and Newark, NJ, have the TPS, which allows immigrants fleeing civil strife and natural disasters to legally live and work in the United States without fear of be expelled. SEIU can have up to 20,000 members with TPS, many of whom have lived here for decades.
Kwaku Agyeman is a 64 year old green card holder who came from Ghana eight years ago and lives in Alexandria with his wife and daughter who have just completed their university studies. Since then, Kwaku has worked as a contract wheelchair agent at the DC National Airport. He is a 32BJ SEIU member leader who helped his colleagues earn their very first living wage through the Airport Authority (MWAA) in April 2017.
Kwaku hopes to be able to retire and buy a house. However, the pandemic cut his hours so dramatically that he feared his family would become homeless. Kwaku and his family had to cut back on spending in order to focus on paying rent and making sure they had food. He is now leading an effort to help his colleagues push MWAA to adopt a paid sick leave policy.
“Ten years ago, we began our organizing efforts at airports with a big dream: that every worker has a living wage, benefits and the life protections that come with a union,” said Kyle Bragg, President of 32BJ SEIU. “At airports on the east coast, we encountered workers drowning in medical debt. We met men who had three jobs and who were still homeless. We met mothers who tried to feed two children on $ 7-8 an hour. “
“The members of our airports are predominantly immigrants from Africa, Haiti and Latin America, many of whom have Temporary Protected Status (TPS). … This is why we are fighting for benefits like sick days and healthcare here at DCA and Dulles to really keep workers safe and our airports safe.
Bragg added that it is essential that these workers have a path to citizenship.