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Strike Underscores Labor Shortages At Denver International Airport

DENVER (CBS4) – "Too much to do," said striking janitorial worker Abebe Negatu.

He was among those who joined picket lines at Denver International Airport Friday to pressure for more hiring and more wages by contractor Flagship, that provides janitorial services.

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The job can be dirty and during the pandemic, frightening.

"The plastic on the trash bags, it becomes torn and the fluid upon our clothes, our bodies," said Negatu about overstuffed trash bins.

Workers are being asked to do more, all for $16.43 an hour.

"We are doing two areas because this wage is very low, So the employees not coming to this company," said striking worker Acef Canga.

Workers with the Service Employees International Union Local 105 agreed to go back to work Saturday with no deal agreed upon with the company, hoping one will be reached next week.

The airport has been hit by labor shortages on many fronts.

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"We're all trying to beef up our staff so. We make sure that folks don't have to wait in that long of lines that they might be experiencing now," said spokesperson Alex Renteria.

The airlines are experiencing shortages too, meaning delays. Paul Gulisano was hit by a delay Friday as his plane was ready to take off for Denver.

"They gave us an update that due to staffing issues and air traffic control staffing, we had to sit on the runway for about an hour and 20 minutes or so."

The TSA says it has been able to, "leverage national staffing resources to supplement our local workforce," said spokesperson Laurie Dankers.

But there are other shortages at DIA. Two shuttle lots remain closed during a shuttle driver shortage. Concessions are unable to stay open.

"We asked our passengers to please be patient with you some of our concession hours have changed because of the staffing challenges," said Renteria.

About 30,000 people work at DIA. Currently, there are about 1,500 jobs unfilled.

Hiring at the airport means some extra challenges.

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"I think a lot of different things can be a factor, distance could be a factor," said Renteria.

Some employers offer transit passes to help workers get in. It also takes time out of the day of the workers.

"I'm coming from Central Park. I need one and a half hours to come here."

Jobs can mean requirements to be met as well.

"It also comes with a security (requirement) so that it takes a little bit longer to get hired at the airport, because you have to get security clearance," said Renteria.

"There are staffing issues everywhere," observed Gulisano.

The airport however is playing catchup with rising wages in many categories. DIA held a job fair this week with 50 employers looking for people. Some of the janitorial workers have been at the airport for more than a decade in the same job. Acef Canga has been at DIA for years.

"I want to work here. I have a job outside, here but I like cleaning… I clean everything. Everything. I sanitize everything for the passengers."

She's hoping for a wage greater than $20 an hour.

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