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BWI workers rally for unionization amid government shutdown

Workers at BWI hold a rally protesting their wages and calling for an end to the government shutdown. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun video)

Jim Burns joined a union when he began working as a ground refueler at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport 18 years ago. But in 2008, he said, workers lost union representation and, with that, raises holidays, vacation time and other benefits.

“We’re underpaid, understaffed and overworked,” Burns said.

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On Wednesday, Burns and other local employees with Menzies Aviation, the company that handles refueling and other services at the airport, demonstrated outside to push their employer to recognize their union.

They also called for an end to the federal government shutdown that’s meant Transportation Security Administration employees at the airport and others across the nation have gone weeks without receiving pay.

“We have Menzies workers who are underpaid working side by side with TSA workers who are not getting paid,” said Jaime Contreras, vice president at 32BJ Service Employees International Union, the union chapter workers are hoping to join.

Wednesday marked the 26th day the government had been shut down as President Donald Trump and Congress were at an impasse over funding for a Mexican border wall.

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot’s office estimated that 172,000 Marylanders — including federal employees and contractors — were affected by the shutdown.

Aircraft refueler Anthony Robinson, 61, said that understaffing at the airport has led to a “caustic” work environment in which safety gets compromised.

“If we’re supposed to have nine people and we only have five,” he said, workers often rush to refuel planes in time to avoid the company being charged for delays.

“Rushing can cause you to have a serious accident,” he said.

A Menzies spokesman said: “Safety is always of paramount importance and Menzies Aviation is fully engaged with staff to address any concerns they may have.”

The Scottish company provides fueling, ground handling, cargo and other services at more than 200 airports around the world.

Among the marchers was Baltimore City Councilwoman Shannon Sneed, who argued in favor of increasing the minimum wage in Baltimore.

“We have people working two and three jobs to make ends meet,” she told workers Wednesday.

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