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Atlanta airport cleaners secure victory in decade-long push for higher wages

Effective Saturday, April 2, the new entry wage for contracted cleaners will be between $12-$17 per hour.
Published: Mar. 30, 2022 at 5:41 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - Workers who have the dirty job of cleaning the world’s busiest airport recently scored a victory in securing higher wages.

It took more than 10 years, but contracted cleaners at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport will soon receive the starting wages they’ve been fighting for. The Services Employees International Union (SEIU) made the announcement at a rally outside its southern region headquarters on Wednesday.

“Flight 2009 is now just beginning to land in 2022,” said Mark Wilkerson, Georgia director of SEIU. “That’s how long it’s been. We’ve been circling that damn airport for almost 15 years.”

The starting wage for Atlanta airport cleaners will no longer be $8.50 per hour. Effective Saturday, April 2, the new entry wage for contracted cleaners will be between $12-$17 per hour.

“Everybody is like ‘We’re so sorry. It’s horrible that they’re getting the $8.50. We want to do something about it.’ That’s what happens,” said Chris Bauman, regional director of the SEIU-Southern Region. “The system protects itself. This is what institutional racism looks like.”

Roughly, 600 employees will be impacted. It’s an emotional victory for Cynthia Hartsfield, who has been cleaning the airport for 39 years.

“It’s really been a struggle throughout all these years, working at that airport and…I’m speechless,” Hartsfield said with tears in her eyes.

Union representatives said the decade-long fight for higher wages wouldn’t be possible without Atlanta Mayor Andrea Dickens, who they praised for getting the airlines to agree to the increases.

“This young man, Mayor Dickens, did more in 45 days than all the mayors did during their terms,” said Wilkerson. “Because he believed, knows, and felt what these workers needed.”

The SEIU believe this is just the first of many victories to come in their fight for living wages, union rights, and racial equity for airport workers.

“This is the gateway to this city, the airport. We’ve got to have some pride and if they won’t do it, we’ll make them do it,” said Harris Raynor, asst. regional director of the SEIU-Southern Region. “We did it this time and we’ll do it again.”

Some workers, who have been at the airport long-term, will also receive more vacation time.