Congressman pushes for higher pay for airport workers who assist disabled fliers

Even after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, the debate over fair and equal accesss of wheelchair-bound airline passengers is resurging amid a rise of reported incidents of mistreatment.

In May 2015, American Airlines was forced to issue an apology for not providing a wheelchair to a cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy.

And last fall, a disabled man said he was forced to crawl off of a United Airlines flight after airline workers failed to bring him a wheelchair. The carrier then apologized and offered him a $300 travel voucher.

This July, an elderly passenger sued United after the airline failed to provide wheelchair assistance. In that incident, the 89-year-old woman claimed that since was forced to navigate the airport with assistance, she fell down an escalator, broke four ribs, fractured her pelvis and hurt her shoulder, arm, back and legs.

As a result of the spate of related issues, Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA) visited Reagan National Airport Wednesday and shadowed contracted wheelchair agents in an attempt to understand how they assist passengers with disabilities.

Beyer is urging the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority (MWAA) to pass a measure ensuring that contractors pay $15 per hour to contracted service workers as soon as possible.

These agents, many of whom are tasked with transporting elderly or disabled passengers who require special care, can earn as little as $6 per hour (plus unreliable tips).

“Contract service workers keep [the] National Airport safe, clean, and operational. They deserve to earn a living wage,” Beyer said. “I hope the MWAA acts to ensure contractors begin paying their workers $15 an hour as soon as possible.

The congressman says he believes better pay leads to higher worker retention at companies. Workers with more experience can therefore provide safer, better quality service to the needs of those they serve and transport.

The petition for higher wages comes after Virginia delegates rallied with hundreds of airport workers in September at DCA as part of a call for the MWAA to ensure contractors pay airline employees at least $15 per hour. The group confronted MWAA board members at their headquarters with a letter signed over by more than 1,000 workers. That included contracted wheelchair attendants, skycaps, baggage handlers, checkpoint agents and cabin cleaners.

Contracted wheelchair attendants, skycaps, baggage handlers, checkpoint agents and cabin cleaners, meantime, were part of a nationwide strike in April to protest alleged unlawful treatment at the hands of employers Eulen American and Airport Terminal Services.

In June, U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez also walked through DCA with workers who shared with him their experiences. They spoke of attempts to make ends meet on their wages and demonstrated how their efforts to keep the airport clean and safe.