BWI concessions
(Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

The operator of concessions at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport has joined with several local business organizations to provide new "enrichment" programs for its workers.

The move comes amid an effort by Unite Here, a labor union in the hospitality industry, to unionize airport concessions employees.


The "Workplace Development Program" will provide AirMall USA concessions workers with health and sanitation training, life skills classes, English as a Second Language courses and "career mapping and time management," the company said.

"The series of business, career, and personal development programs are part of our overall commitment to ensuring that AirMall continues to cultivate high-quality opportunities," Brett Kelly, vice president of AirMall Maryland, said in a statement.

AirMall is also launching a "Lunch & Learn Program" for BWI employees to learn about topics like personal finance, college enrollment and tuition resources and home buying tips.

However, Unite Here officials criticized the program as misdirected.

"These programs don't really address the issues that workers have been bringing up for a long time now, which are related to the wages that they're receiving," said Meghan Cohorst, a Unite Here spokeswoman.

Natalie Hickman, an employee at the McDonald's restaurant at BWI, called the new programs "insulting" in a statement provided by Unite Here.

"What AirMall's program does not address is the fact that I make $8 per hour in my job at the airport, and though I work as much as possible sometimes even that isn't enough to provide the basics for myself and my baby daughter," Hickman said. "I don't need time management classes. What I need are better wages."

In February, representatives of Unite Here and food and retail workers at BWI protested working conditions and unsuccessfully attempted to deliver a "Bill of Rights" to AirMall.

The document sought to guarantee job security, fair wages and benefits and the right to join a union in a neutral environment, Unite Here said.

AirMall manages concessions at the airport under a contract with the Maryland Aviation Administration, but does not directly employ the workers.

Mark Knight, president of AirMall, said at the time that full and part-time workers earned an average of $15 an hour, which he called a "very robust wage level." He also said AirMall "supports the workers' right to choose if they want [union] representation."

Unite Here officials said they recently conducted their own survey of workers, which showed a much lower median wage of $8.50 an hour.

"For many of them that's barely enough for them to meet their basic needs," Cohorst said. "These worker programs don't really do enough to address that."