Airport workers win paid sick leave, continue fight to reinstate fired Delta worker

Members of the 15 Now coalition stand in support of Ahmed Ahmed, who testified at the Metropolitan Airports Commission meeting today in favor of a proposed paid leave policy, passed by commissioners later in the meeting

Members of the 15 Now coalition stand in support of Ahmed Ahmed, who testified at the Metropolitan Airports Commission meeting today in favor of a proposed paid leave policy, passed by commissioners later in the meeting

Airport workers’ campaign for better wages and conditions took a step forward today, as the Metropolitan Airports Commission unanimously approved a measure requiring employers to provide paid sick leave to all workers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Supporters of 15 Now, a worker-led coalition seeking to raise the minimum wage at MSP to $15 per hour, cheered the MAC’s vote as a victory, but one that came at a steep cost for one of the campaign’s most vocal supporters.

Kip Hedges, a baggage handler and 26-year airline employee, was fired by Delta Air Lines recently for comments he made in support of the 15 Now campaign in an interview with the labor-news website Workday Minnesota. During the open forum portion of today’s meeting, Hedges and other airport workers urged MAC members to publicly denounce the firing.

“It’s important that MAC supports the rights of workers who are fighting for change,” AirServ worker Ahmed Ahmed said, “because we know there’s a lot that must change.”

Hedges praised MAC members for supporting paid sick leave, and he acknowledged they have no say over hiring and firing at Delta. “But what you do have is moral authority,” Hedges said. “I would like you to make it clear to Delta Air Lines that they stand alone on this.”

Fired Delta worker Kip Hedges speaks during the open forum portion of the MAC meeting. "I can assure everyone here that I, for sure, am not going to stop doing what I’m doing," he said.

Fired Delta worker Kip Hedges: “I can assure everyone here that I, for sure, am not going to stop doing what I’m doing.”

“Come out on my side,” he added. “Come out on Ahmed’s side, for the workers who make this the best airport in the country.”

[Add your name to a petition calling on Delta to reinstate Hedges.]

If the MAC fails to send a message, Delta and other employers will be emboldened to retaliate against other workers who, like Hedges, take a stand against low wages – or for collective bargaining.

Before being fired, Hedges was active in efforts to organize baggage handlers at Delta, a campaign supported by the Machinists union. He said a former co-worker reported being questioned last week by Delta management about his role in collecting signed cards in support of an organizing election.

“It was a shot across the bow,” Hedges said. “You can do something about that by using your moral authority to make sure that Delta and other employers understand that … workers have the right to raise their voice in the workplace and get a union.”

MAC members appeared receptive to workers’ concerns.

Carl Crimmins, a past president of the Minnesota Pipe Trades Association who serves on the MAC, said attempts by any employer to intimidate pro-union workers were unacceptable. He called for an ordinance to establish standards for labor relations at the airport.

“I think a good, healthy discussion on a labor peace ordinance is something this commission should take up,” Crimmins said.

Commissioner Erica Prosser said the work of drafting and implementing a paid leave policy, which will allow airport workers to accrue up to 72 hours of sick, family or emergency leave annually, would not fall on the MAC “if all the employees at the airport were allowed collective-bargaining rights.”

“We wouldn’t, as a commission, have to deal with these issues ourselves,” Prosser said.

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