A single-file line of nearly workers dressed in blue T-shirts silently snaked its way through Terminal 4 at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on Tuesday. It was a poignant representation of the voicelessness many of them said they feel as employees of Prospect Airport Services.
The company, an independent contractor that provides aviation support services to many of the major airlines, has come under increasing scrutiny for working conditions at Sky Harbor.
But as the workers boarded the PHX Sky Train and headed to the 44th Street & Washington Station, an excited chatter began to consume the silence. Many workers took selfies and recorded videos on their cell phones as the train pulled into the station and they saw the sizable crowd of supporters and news crews gathered around a makeshift podium. In the background, a mariachi band in full regalia played upbeat music.
For the Prospect workers, the chaotic scene was a major step toward better wages and safer working conditions.
“Right now, you have one decision: You can stand with us or against us,” said Linda Ressler, a Prospect cabin cleaner.
In late August, Ressler was one of 11 Prospect employees at Sky Harbor who filed a complaint with the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health. The complaint alleges that Prospect does not provide accessible water and forces employees to work in dangerous heat.
However, the ADOSH complaint is only one of several actions being taken by airport employees.
On June 28, workers joined staffers in 13 other cities nationwide to protest American Airlines’ low wages and poor benefit packages.
"These people are working hard, and they're doing hard work. And they deserve the respect and the pay and the insurance," Janae van De Kerk, told Phoenix New Times in June. Van De Kerk has worked as a passenger service assistant at Sky Harbor since November.
Also in August, dozens of United Airlines flight attendants picketed at Sky Harbor as part of a nationwide day of action to “fix ongoing operational issues and focus on negotiating a long overdue contract.”
“We told management over a year ago to hire schedulers, staff up the hotel desk and implement automation for crew communication. Management’s response this summer is to attempt to blame Flight Attendants for refusing to accept concessions to fix the problems they’ve created,” said Ken Diaz, president of the Association of Flight Attendants' United Master Executive Council, in a press release.
SSP America, a food and drink travel operator at the airport, also has come under fire. On Sept. 5, employees of SSP filed a complaint with ADOSH after reportedly finding evidence of rats at the Terminal 4 Dunkin’ Donuts. A second complaint, filed on Sept. 19, alleges that there were numerous cockroaches in the kitchen, storage rooms and seating areas of Pei Wei and Matt’s Big Breakfast. Both restaurants are operated by SSP.
As the list of complaints continues to grow, workers and Service Employees International Union representatives capped off the rally on Tuesday with a sit-in, an act of nonviolent civil disobedience that resulted in six arrests.
Jordan Jamison, an organizer in training with SEIU, was arrested after refusing to comply with commands from Phoenix police officers to not block a section on 41st Place between East Madison and East Washington streets. Zach Bodine, a Prospect employee listed on the Aug. 24 complaint to ADOSH, also was arrested for his involvement in the sit-in.
All six of the arrested individuals have since been released from police custody.