SEIU 1021

Oakland Airport Custodians Bring Their Safety and Staffing Demands Straight to the Boss
“Know one thing: Custodians are essential!”


Custodians are standing together to demand an end to understaffing and improved safety in the workplace at Oakland’s International Airport.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, cleaning high-traffic areas absolutely cannot be compromised on, but understaffing is making that impossible at the airport. As Jo’Ell Thompson, a custodian at the Oakland Airport for ten years, said, “We are cleaning contaminated areas, where people who are known to be infected have been, but we’re understaffed and unable to keep the airport properly cleaned.”

Fewer people are flying, but the airport is still full of people. Jo’Ell Thompson says, “We are in a high-traffic environment, and several of the terminals are overcrowded, but the airlines are not demanding social distancing. This is bad for safety, because these terminals are too unsafe to clean, and we don’t have the staff to clean them.”

With revenues down during the pandemic, management is trying to cut corners and is pushing more work onto fewer workers: Thompson said, “Management is claiming that what they call ‘operational needs’ mean the work that used to be done by two or three of us now has be done by one of us. We’re overworked, we’re understaffed, we’re on the front lines, and we need hazard pay.“

The disrespect and chronic unsafe conditions drove the custodians to circulate a petition demanding “immediate action from Port of Oakland management so we can have a properly staffed, safe working environment and an airport that is clean and safe for passengers,” and last week, Jo’Ell and 17 of her co-workers brought that petition to Director of Aviation Bryant Francis.

Thompson said, “We feel management at the airport is not taking into consideration how valuable we are. We are not treated like frontline workers, which we are. We’re telling management that we need them to fix staffing, and fix social distancing at overcrowded terminals. We have ‘operational needs’ too, and we need these issues to be solved NOW. We want everyone to hear us. Know one thing: Custodians are essential!”