350 janitors at Denver airport have voted to strike against $17-an-hour pay and ‘understaffing.’ They say low wages will make a labor shortage worse.

Janitor Mayra Hernandez, right, wiping hand rails at Concourse B of Denver International Airport in Denver, Colorado
350 Denver airport janitors have voted to strike over $US17 ($AU24) pay and high workload. Hyoung Chang/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images
  • Unionized Denver International Airport janitors have voted to strike over pay and workload.
  • A labor shortage at the airport will get worse due to low wages, the janitors said, per the SEIU union.
  • Janitors at Denver airport earn about $US17 ($AU24) an hour, a SEIU spokesman told The Denver Post.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Hundreds of janitors who work at Denver International Airport voted on Wednesday to strike for better pay and workloads, a union announced on Thursday.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 105 said in a statement that 99% of the 350 janitors and union members who participated in a three-day voting process backed a strike. The janitors work for Flagship Aviation Services, a contractor that won the Denver airport contract in March.

We put ourselves at risk every day to keep this airport running through COVID,” Densley Philbert, a janitor at Denver airport, said in the statement.

“We are sick of being understaffed, overworked, underpaid, and undervalued for our work. We are ready to do what it takes for our families, including going on strike, to get the fair wages and respect we deserve for the services we provide,” Philbert said. He has worked at the airport for 16 years, per the statement.

Flagship had not agreed a fair contract with the airport janitors after weeks of discussions, the union said in its statement. The janitors’ current contracts are set to expire on Thursday, and a potential strike could kick off as early as Friday if an agreement isn’t reached, SEIU said.

The janitors at the airport currently earn around $US17 ($AU24) an hour, a SEIU spokesman told The Denver Post. The spokesman said the janitors wanted to ensure their pay keeps up with the rising cost of living.

Local media outlets have reported that Denver airport is suffering from a lack of workers, causing long lines and delays. The airport hosted a job fair on Wednesday to fill nearly 1,500 open positions.

Businesses across the US say they’re struggling with a labor shortage, and some claim that employees don’t want to work anymore – but workers say they refuse to take low-paying jobs in such a competitive labor market, and are searching for better benefits and working conditions.

Solita Sualau, a Denver airport janitor, said in the statement that striking “is not something any one of us wants to do, but if Flagship continues to refuse to value our essential work, we will do what it takes to get the respect we deserve and make these jobs good, livable wage jobs in our community.”

Insider asked Flagship and Denver International Airport for comment, but did not immediately hear back outside of business hours.

Staff shortages at the airport will worsen because low wages deter new hires, janitors said, per the SEIU’s statement.

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