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Atlanta Airport Cleaners Celebrate Wage Increases After Decade-Long Battle

ATLANTA, Ga. (CW69 News at 10) -- Contracted airport workers at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport celebrated a major victory on Wednesday, joining union organizers for a big announcement on how their fight for living wages has paid off and landed them higher wages.

Cynthia Hartsfield has the same name as the Atlanta airport where she's worked as a cleaner for 39 years. She says the runway to higher wages has been way too long.

She and other cleaners were excited to learn about a wage increase from $8.50 an hour to a new starting pay of $12 to $15 dollars an hour, based on shift.

Union officials reflected on the journey and how nearly all of the cleaners are Black workers.

"They were at $7.25 an hour. That was in 2009," said Chris Baumann, the regional director for Workers United Southern Region. "You think about how dirty our airport is. They sweep the floors. They vacuum the floors," Baumann said, also describing their other tasks, like cleaning bathrooms.

"We've been circling the damned airport for almost 15 years," said Workers United Florida-Georgia District Director Mark Wilkerson.

Workers say it's been 15 years of red tape and what they call second-class treatment by the Atlanta Airport Terminal Corporation. They say nothing changed until they threatened to go on strike, and they credited Mayor Andre Dickens for his role in bringing the turbulent wage flight to this successful landing.

"We had to get the Mayor's Office to lean on, really, the airlines, to get this group of arrogant people that Mark talked about, the AATC , to start to pay attention to the people who work at the airport," said Workers United Southern Region Assistant Regional Director Harris Raynor.

"We have worked too long, too hard, been taken advantage of to let it go like that," said Service Employees International Union Secretary-Treasurer Gerry Hudson.

The wage increases take effect on April 2, and many tenured workers are also expected to get more vacation time.

Organizers say they plan to continue demanding higher wages for airport cleaners.

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