Lauren Brown
Institute for Legal Reform


May 17, 2017


On May 2nd, Senators Corey Booker (D- NJ) and Sherrod Brown (D- Ohio) sent letters to 10 airline CEOs asking for information about their policies and practices regarding the use of subcontractors. In theletters, Booker and Brown are requesting, “information regarding your subcontracted workforce, including the number of subcontractors; the type of work that is being contracted out and whether that work had previously been done in-house; the typical length of a contract; terms provided to subcontractors regarding wages, paid sick leave time, safety training, security clearances, and general working conditions; and guidance provided to subcontractors regarding expected fidelity to company conduct and procedures.”

Subcontracting is a common enough arrangement in the airline industry, typically involving positions such as baggage handlers, wheelchair attendants, cabin cleaners and airline security. Of course, subcontracting is also used in many different sectors of the economy. So why the sudden interest in the practice by Sens. Booker and Brown?

To some these requests could seem harmless, but this type of information could be exceedingly beneficial to, say, a labor union that wished to organize these workers. And it just so happens that there is a union with more than a passing interest in doing so: the powerful Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

The SEIU has launched the so-called Airport Workers United Campaign, whose mission is to unionize airline subcontractors. The campaign has engaged in numerous protests at airports around the country, borrowing from the tactics of the SEIU’s Fight for $15 campaign. Outside of protests, another page straight out of the SEIU’s playbook is to encourage sympathetic politicians to apply additional pressure on targeted companies, which seems to be the point of the letters from the Senators.

Whether the airlines in question will divulge this information, and whether that information will ultimately help the SEIU recruit new members, remain to be seen. What seems clear is that in this case, the SEIU is hoping that a little political turbulence will help their organizing campaign take off.

About the authors

Lauren Brown