By Jan Carabeo, Jim Melwert, Justin Finch
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Some baggage handlers have pulled out the picket signs at Philadelphia International Airport.
A strike organizer told CBS3 Eyewitness News the strike wasn't supposed to start until 7 a.m., but the handlers began chanting "we're on strike" hours earlier.
More than 100 baggage handlers are pledging to step off the job, demanding better benefits and higher wages, while passengers at PHL hope this doesn't cause delays.
The workers that are going on strike are men and women responsible for getting checked bags scanned and to TSA. They are the ones you see loading bags on and off conveyor belts and carousals. Airline staff actually put the bags onto the plane.
The 125 employees are employed by Prime Flight — which contracts with individual airlines. Those employees tell CBS3 that they are currently paid $9 an hour instead of the $10.88 they were promised.
They voted to unionize and local 32BJ SEIU is organizing the work stoppage as many baggage handlers say they will step off the job until they get what they want.
"We don't mind taking care of people's bags," said Baggage Handler Mike Bell. "We don't mind, just give us our cut."
"We have coworkers who work two and three jobs just to support themselves and their families," added Baggage Handler Alfred Williams.
One worker said he easily handles 1,000 bags a day, and for that kind of labor he wants health benefits.
"We deserve sick days, medical and things like that," said Daniel Williams.
"We bust our butts doing what we do," bag handler Sarena Santos says. "People think we are not baggage handlers — we're lifting bags. I'm a female lifting 70, 80, 90 bags. For them to treat us the way we get treated … we don't even have a break room."
Nate Smith says he handles hundreds of bags a day and has this message to management:
"I want the respect. I want the benefits. I'm a human being, I have rights."
"We're standing with them to demand change at Philadelphia International Airport," said Councilman Kenyatta Johnson from the picket line.
Johnson lended his support to the demonstrators, and later that afternoon, co-sponsored a resolution to end the dispute between Primeflight and its baggage handlers.
Not all of the employees plan to go on strike.
An airport spokesperson says that they have been in contact with as many as ten airlines that subcontract with Prime Flight and all of those airlines are said to have a contingency plan in place.
The airport adds they're monitoring the situation, and so far, there have been no delays or issues.
CBS 3 made several attempts to reach Prime Flight for comment, and received no word back by press time.
The workers gave no indication that they would hold any future work stoppages.
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