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5 Things to Know: CLT Airport Workers Vote to Unionize

...and four more stories from May 7-13, 2023

Labor groups hold signs reading "Unions for All" standing in front of the traffic control tower at Charlotte Douglas International Airport
Labor groups with Airport Workers United, an organizing campaign from the Service Employees International Union, took part in a National Day of Action on March 30, 2022, calling on airlines to pay their contracted workers a living wage and provide life-saving benefits like paid time off and health insurance. This week, this group led a successful vote to unionize with the SEIC. (Photo courtesy of SEIU)

CLT Airport Workers Vote to Unionize

In one of the largest union elections of airport workers in the Carolinas since 1997, service workers for American Airlines ground services provider, Jetstream Ground Services Inc., at Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) voted Thursday to join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), bringing nearly 500 ramp agents, cabin cleaners, lavatory and water agents, high-lift truck drivers and pro-shop workers into the union.

“This is a victory not only for Charlotte’s airport service workers, but also for our families, communities and workers here in the South,” said Lashonda Barber, a high-lift truck driver for Jetstream, in a release on Friday. “Through all the hard work and organizing that we’ve done in the past year and a half, it feels so great to know that we finally have a voice on the job. Now that we have a strong union that will represent us, we will be able to fight for what we deserve — and Jetstream will have to listen.”

During a rally at the airport in December 2022, airport workers who were then still organizing with SEIU in hopes of joining the union spoke about how unbearable working conditions, low pay and lack of benefits such as paid sick days have been fueling high turnover rates. Some JetStream cabin cleaners said they often come into contact with vomit, blood and feces but are understaffed and sometimes given just a few minutes to clean planes. Others reported having to work in the extreme North Carolina heat during the summer without sufficient access to drinking water.

“[Friday’s vote] is truly a historic union victory in the Carolinas,” said Chris Baumann, SEIU Workers United Southern Regional Director, in Friday’s release. “We look forward to moving to the next step of bargaining for better pay, benefits and protections for our new members, and we will continue our fight together to improve standards for all airport service workers in Charlotte and at airports across the country through the inclusion of the Good Jobs for Good Airports Act’s wage and benefit standards in the upcoming FAA Reauthorization.”

New Derailment Reported on the Blue Line

News broke on Thursday that another CATS Blue Line car had derailed on Wednesday, this time in a railyard while not in service. The only operator onboard was reportedly not injured. The derailment looks to be a minor one, having occurred during a maintenance check, but it is also the fourth one reported since last May 2022, when a car derailed with more than 20 people onboard. Each of the three derailments to have occurred since have happened in railyards with no passengers onboard.

CATS interim CEO Brent Cagle told city council in March that, while CATS works on fixing the issues with bearings that they believe have led to these derailments, the company is using tech that spots any issues with those bearings before catastrophic failure, is increasing inspections of the bearings, and has lowered max speed to 35 mph on the Blue Line.

Local Elections Begin to Shape Up

This year’s local election campaigns saw more movement this week, following Charlotte City Council at-large rep Braxton Winston’s early-May announcement that he’s running for N.C. Commissioner of Labor in 2024, ensuring at least one council seat will be empty in the 2023 election. This week, one incumbent elected official has bowed out of the school board race while another hopeful has entered his hat in the ring for Winston’s empty seat.

On May 1, before Winston’s announcement, local college student Ben Copeland announced that he will run as a Democrat for an at-large seat, hoping to become Charlotte City Council’s youngest member ever. Not much is known about Copeland except that he is a Myers Park IB graduate and currently studying finance at UNC Charlotte.

Jennifer De la Jara, an at-large rep on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education since 2019, announced during that board’s meeting Tuesday night that she will not seek re-election. De la Jara, who has written multiple op-eds published by Queen City Nerve, cited her family as the top reason for the decision and said she hopes to support a “strong Latina candidate” to replace her.

Atom Power to Add 200+ Jobs to Huntersville HQ

The Mecklenburg County Office of Economic Development has partnered with Atom Power for an expansion of the latter’s headquarters and manufacturing facility in Huntersville, according to a news release from the county on Tuesday. The expansion will include 205 new jobs and a $4.2 million investment from the company by 2027.

The company will create positions for electrical, mechanical, and software engineers, electrical technicians, and other manufacturing and support personnel with an average salary of $91,804, according to the release.

Atom Power, a manufacturer supplying components involved with EV charging stations, was founded by UNC Charlotte graduate Ryan Kennedy, who also attended CPCC and went on to invent the most advanced and only digital breaker switch ever approved for commercial use.

Medic Crew Struck While Responding to Call

Three members of a paramedic crew that were struck by a car while responding to a call early Friday morning are out of the hospital and recovering at home, according to the Mecklenburg EMS Agency (Medic).

The incident began at around 1 a.m. on Friday, when CMPD and Medic responded to the intersection of North Tryon Street and Mallard Creek Church Road in reference to a call about a motor vehicle crash. Medic responded to the scene and parked in the intersection with its emergency lights activated. There were also several marked CMPD vehicles in the intersection with their emergency lights activated. The driver of a 2016 black Nissan Altima collided with the Medic truck in the intersection while the crew was treating a patient from the initial collision.

Three members of the Medic crew were transported to the hospital with varying degrees of injury — life-threatening, serious and no injury. Two others were also transported — a patient from the original collision call and the driver of the car that struck the Medic vehicle — both of whom had life-threatening injuries.

Twenty-seven drivers and pedestrians have lost their lives in traffic-related incidents this year on Charlotte roads. (In the above map: red=driver/passenger, green=cyclist/scooter rider, black=pedestrian on foot.)

A preliminary investigation indicated that the driver of the Altima, a 19-year-old man, was traveling southeast on Mallard Creek Church Road when he ran a red light and struck the Medic truck. The collision caused the back of the Medic truck to separate from the frame. Speed appears to be a factor in the collision.

Detectives has obtained warrants for felony failure to move over and three counts of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury against the driver of the Altima.

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