Planned strike at Philly airport called off

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Airport workers and members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) marched from Philadelphia International Airport’s Terminal F to Terminal B in 2013.

The union representing skycaps, wheelchair attendants, cabin cleaners, and baggage handlers at the luggage carousels said it has called off plans to strike at Philadelphia International Airport starting Wednesday.

The SEIU Local 32BJ, which represents 1,400 people at the airport, said early Wednesday that the union, American Airlines and other stakeholders had entered last-minute discussions and talks would take place later in the morning.

Workers were to start leaving their jobs at 9 a.m., said Julie Blust, spokeswoman for SEIU Local 32BJ. Pickets at Terminal B and C departure gates and a rally had also been planned.

The workers could strike at a later time if a resolution isn’t reached, the union said.

“While the strike is suspended as negotiations get underway, the airport workers are ready to go back on strike should talks fall apart,” Rob Hill, vice president of 32BJ, said in a statement.

Mary Flannery, spokeswoman for the airport, said the group had been issued a permit to march for four days, through Saturday. She said flight operations wouldn’t be interrupted. Many PHL workers, including maintenance staff, janitors, and employees who work directly for airlines, belong to labor unions. The workers who were to go on strike are employees of independent contractors hired by the airlines to perform passenger services.

In April, these employees voted to affiliate with SEIU, and the National Labor Relations Board approved the election. At issue now, the union says, is the unwillingness of the contractors, particularly the two largest contractors, to bargain a first contract. On Tuesday, the union filed unfair labor practice charges against Prospect Airport Services and PrimeFlight Aviation Services. Clint Smith, eastern vice president for Prospect Airport Services, which employs about 400 workers, had no comment, nor did Bill Stejskal, PrimeFlight’s senior vice president for human resources. PrimeFlight employs 250.

Headquartered in Manhattan, Local 32 BJ of SEIU, the Service Employees International Union, has 163,000 members, primarily in property service jobs, also known as janitors, along the East Coast.