News Article - November 29, 2007

  Philadelphia - What began as a small group of local skycaps furious over a new baggage-handling fee has escalated to the brink of a substantial class-action lawsuit. Skycaps working for US Airways at Philadelphia International Airport began complaining during the summer about the new $2 fee for curbside check-in, saying the fee was cutting deep into the tips they rely on to make minimal wages.

   The lawyer who started signing them up as clients says he now represents over 3,000 skycaps across the country experiencing similar problems. And the lawyer, Mikel Jones, plans to file a class-action lawsuit on their behalf before the end of the year. The suit will name both US Airways and PrimeFlight Aviation Services, the Nashville-based contracting company that employs the skycaps. The suit may also name other airlines. "They're not ensuring that these guys are making minimum wage, and they're not making sure they collect the difference between minimum wage and the tips they get," Mr. Jones said this week.

   Contracting skycaps is a customary practice at many airports. PrimeFlight pays the skycaps here $2.83 per hour, expecting them to rake in significantly more in tips. But when US Airways implemented the new fee in June, PrimeFlight did not increase wages for the skycaps. Many customers don't realize the $2 fee never lines the skycaps' pockets but is rather split between the two companies. And people in the industry say contractors often do raise wages to cushion the effect of handling fees. US Airways declined to comment on the possible suit, but did defend the new fee.

   "This is not something new," airline spokeswoman Valerie Wunder said. "We're following the direction the industry is moving." Many airlines at other airports are indeed phasing in new baggage-handling fees. Ms. Wunder referred further comment to PrimeFlight. A company spokesman would not comment.

   "We feel like we're being exploited," Elliot Rosario told The Bulletin last month. Mr. Roasario had worked at the airport for 23 years before he was fired two weeks ago. And he's convinced his termination was retaliation for the public comments he made. Mr. Jones is considering the possibility of a separate lawsuit against the firing. "We know it was retaliatory," Mr. Jones said.

   A letter from the company advising Mr. Rosario of his immediate termination on Nov. 14 alleges he reported collecting money for far fewer bags then he checked and that he had been warned about properly reporting the number of bags he handled before. But Mr. Rosario said those charges were bogus and that he never received any type of warning. "I've never been absent, never been written up, nothing," Mr. Rosario said yesterday. "This is crazy. This is their way of getting back." Skycaps interviewed last month, most of whom insisted upon anonymity for fear of retribution at work, said the fee was costing them 30-60 percent of their weekly wages. "We can't make a living anymore," one said. "We've got to get part-time jobs."

Source - The Bulletin