DC-area airport workers demand sick days to work through pandemic

Many D.C.-area airport workers are considered essential, yet they do not have sick days to use in case they get COVID-19. Though many of the workers are not represented, a local union is rallying on their behalf.

A group of about 25 people rallied Thursday outside the offices of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority near Reagan National Airport, holding signs that read, “MWAA Sick Days Now,” curtly expressing their message.

“Here at the airport, all workers, whether they are represented or not, lack sick days and lack health care for the most part,” said Jaime Contreras, vice president of SEIU 32BJ, a union representing airport and commercial cleaning workers in the D.C. area.

“We’re here in front of MWAA today asking they pass a policy, which is in the scope of their authority, which gives people sick days. So, if they are feeling ill, they cannot come to work,” Contreras said.

The rally comes after some 70 airport workers came into contact with someone who has COVID-19 and were potentially exposed to the virus at their church.

“The airports authority board of directors is determining the best course of action within the bounds of Virginia and federal law regarding the request for sick leave and held a listening session with worker representatives earlier in August,” said Christina Saull with MWAA in a statement.

MWAA has no knowledge of any worker who is self-quarantining based on their exposure at a house of worship, Saull said.

But Contreras is concerned that workers who live paycheck-to-paycheck are not able to stay home and take care of themselves because they simply cannot afford to.

“It’s shameful in general that workers don’t have sick days in America, but it’s even more shameful that even during a pandemic, people have to beg for sick days,” he said.

SEIU 32BJ is also asking MWAA to require employers at the airport to request workers with the most seniority return first.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Megan Cloherty

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

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