DENVER – The union that represents about 350 members of the janitorial staff at Denver International Airport called their Friday strike successful and said they would return to work on Saturday and resume negotiations with their contractor in coming days.
“We sent a strong message to Flagship [Facility Services] today: that we’re standing strong in our demand for fair wages, fair workloads, and respect,” said Service Employees International Union Local 105 member Hector Mazariego, who is a member of the union’s bargaining team and has worked at the airport for 20 years.
More than 100 workers walked off the job for the strike around noon on Friday and marched and chanted outside on the Westin Plaza on the south side of the airport. The workers stayed at the airport for hours holding signs that said, “2% won’t pay the rent,” or, “Hero pay for hero work.”
Leaders said if the union and contractor cannot come to an agreement on a new contract, workers would strike again.
“They’ve come to send a message that even in a pandemic we never stopped, you called us heroes we never stopped, we clean these restaurants we keep this airport clean and open, and we’ve never stopped doing our jobs. Now it’s time for Flagstaff to do theirs,” said Patricia Johnson-Gibson, the health care vice president of SEIU Local 105.
SEIU Local 105 members voted Wednesday to authorize the strike. The union says more than 99% of members voted in favor of the strike as its contract with Flagship Facility Services was set to expire on Thursday.
Employees at the airport make roughly $17 an hour, which union members say is not enough amid an increased workload and worker shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Along with fighting for better wages, the janitorial staff also say they want better work conditions with more employees being hired to help with the increasing number of passengers coming through the airport regularly. They are also calling for better equipment to be able to clean DIA properly.
“It used to be a good place to work and now we’re struggling,” said Luis Gonzalez, who has worked at the airport for nearly 10 years. “Behind the scenes unfortunately we don’t have enough equipment to clean and sometimes employees have to fight for a broom or a dustpan.”
Denver city councilman Chris Hinds showed up to the protest Friday and spoke to the union. He told Denver7 he is not trying to get in the way of the negotiations but wanted to show his support for the workers.
“They’re making sure that our airport, which is an economic engine for the entire Rocky Mountain region, is clean and safe and so I think it’s very important that we support them as they have been supporting us,” Hinds said.
As the janitorial staff protested, airport passengers waiting to catch a flight watched and occasionally took pictures. A few passing pilots even gave them a thumbs up.
“I think it’s great I think they deserve whatever they’re asking for. They are essential if they’re janitors because they have to clean a mess as we make out here and so I think it’s fair,” one traveler told Denver7.
The strike lasted just for the day; the janitorial staff will return to work Saturday at 6 a.m. but negotiations are not likely to resume then.
Flagship Facility Services said in a statement Thursday it was disappointed the union had declined the company’s final offer for an agreement. Neither side had disclosed what the wages and benefits were in the latest rounds of negotiations.
In a statement Friday, Flagship said it hopes the union will reconsider the latest offer.
“We’re disappointed that the union has turned down our final offer for an agreement that would have protected and improved wages and provided very generous fringe benefits for our valued employees,” the company said in a statement. “We hope the union will reconsider. In the meantime, we are prepared to serve the public at Denver International Airport to uphold a clean and safe environment and quality service for travelers in the interim.”
The airport sent Denver7 a statement urging the two sides to work together to come to an agreement quickly. In the meantime, both Flagship and the airport have worked together to bring in additional janitorial staff to help keep the airport clean.
While this strike lasted only one day, the union warned if negotiations do not go the way they would like they are willing to strike again and warn it will likely last much longer.
“If not we’re ready for another strike and to make it bigger than what we are now,” Gonzalez said.