Why we're going on strike [Letter]

May 23, 2014

My name is Luther Eaton, and I am a life-long resident of Baltimore City. I've been working in the storeroom for Hudson News at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport since 1995. After seven months of failed contract negotiations with our employer, my co-workers and I recently began planning for a one-day strike for May 22.

It's been almost 20 years since I started working at the airport, and back then BWI was a completely different place. It hadn't yet seen the millions of dollars in renovations that have made it into a facility that is a source of pride for our elected officials. It wasn't yet our area's premier airport — but it was on its way.

My job was different, too. When I started out at Hudson News, I was a single father raising a young daughter. I earned only $6.75 per hour, and it was a daily struggle. I worried all the time about how I would provide food for us to eat and a roof over our heads. On top of that, my co-workers and I endured a very difficult work environment. We were yelled at, berated or otherwise disrespected by our managers. But we knew that we deserved better, and even though we were scared, we decided to organize a union, and we won. We joined Unite Here Local 7 in 2005.

In the 10 years since, BWI has continued to evolve into a first-class airport. It even has a different name — BWI Thurgood Marshall — in honor of one of our nation's greatest fighters for equal rights. And thanks to our union, my job has changed, too. I have a better wage, pension and health care benefits, and I know that my job is secure. Unfortunately, all of that is in jeopardy.

Our union contract has expired, and for seven months Hudson News has refused to come to the table with a reasonable offer. Instead it is proposing to give us a raise of less than 25 cents and reduce what it pays into our pension while refusing to contribute enough to provide us with decent health care benefits.

In the 20 years that I've worked here, we've continuously moved forward. Now, Hudson wants us to go backward, and we refuse to accept that. That's why I'll be striking May 22.

I hear all the time that BWI is an economic engine for our region and for us, the residents of Maryland. The reality is that it's not there yet, but my co-workers and I believe that it could be. This Thursday, we'll strike, we'll win what we deserve from Hudson News and we'll continue to provide the best customer service to passengers at our airport.

At the same time, I believe that all the other employers at BWI — from Phillip's Seafood to McDonald's to the Silver Diner — should also provide jobs with fair pay and regular hours for their workers. I never want another parent to suffer the uncertainty and fear that I did.

By standing up at BWI, my co-workers and I are working our way to a better future for ourselves, for our families and for our great city of Baltimore.

Luther Eaton

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