Dulles Airport workers want a safety plan and health care before returning to work

Workers who clean, disinfect and transport passengers around our area’s airports are concerned for their safety when they return to work, as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

“Safety comes first for our co-workers,” said Gebrish Weldemariam who works at Dulles International Airport.

Weldemariam joined dozens of UNITE Local 32 and 32BJ SEIU members during a virtual rally that ran simultaneously to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s monthly board meeting.

Chanting together and sharing their concerns, some workers held signs reading, “I need health care,” “Healthy Workers = Healthy Airports” and “I need a safe return to work.”

“The bosses did not have our safety in mind before we got laid off and they won’t have their safety in mind when we go back,” said Michelle Styczynski who is also a union member.

In addressing safety during the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority board meeting, president Jack Potter talked about some of the creative ways that MWAA is securing masks.

“The Dulles airport upholstery shop shifted from chair coverings to protective masks for their colleagues,” he told board members.

Potter did not comment on health care that workers have lost when they were laid off from their positions as the travel industry saw operations all but cease due to a lack of consumer confidence and stay-at-home orders.

He said that workers who are still required to clock-in are disinfecting and cleaning common areas of the airport, social distancing and handwashing. MWAA continues to procure personal protective equipment.

“A significant element of the activity to keep people safe has involved our team securing much needed and often scarce provisions including cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, protective clothing, cleaning supplies, and of course masks,” Potter said.

“While many of these things have been extremely hard to find, our folks have been going the extra mile to track supplies down.”

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Union workers who clean planes mentioned on the Zoom call that it’s not about the cleanliness of the space, but that they’ll be working in proximity to one another without knowing whether or not their teammates are sick.

One worker expressed concerns about reusing the same protective gear and bringing it home to his family without proper decontamination.

MWAA Board Members acknowledged the many workers who joined their virtual meeting, but could not rally and participate as they would in person.

In all, 156 people participated in the Zoom call.

Board member Walter Tejada and Chair Earl Adams Jr. thanked the workers for what they have done so far at the airport.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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