SEIU Lambert janitor responds to defeat of second airport privatization scheme

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GROUNDED: A ballot initiative petition to allow the City of St. Louis to privatize St. Louis Lambert International Airport by leasing it to the highest bidder was withdrawn by privatization proponents Wednesday, as was similar legislation backed by St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed.

Samya Harris, an SEIU janitor at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, is celebrating the defeat of the latest Lambert Airport privatization scheme.

Privatization proponents have pulled both the ballot initiative petition and similar legislation backed by St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed.

“For the second time, working people came together to defeat the wealthy special interests and insiders looking to privatize our airport for their own gain,” Harris said.

“We clean Lambert every day, and we know better than anyone how harmful privatization would be for our families, our livelihoods, our city and our airport. Selling control of Lambert would mean lower wages and financial instability for everyone who works hard to keep it running, making it more difficult for working people across our region to make ends meet.”

The St. Louis Labor Council, SEIU and UNITE HERE, which represents hotel, restaurant and hospitality workers, came out against both proposals earlier this summer.

SEIU represents 12,000 working people throughout Missouri, including nearly 100 janitors at St. Lambert.

The ballot initiative was backed by the St. Louis NAACP and the non-AFL-CIO affiliated Carpenters Union, with the backing of political megadonor Rex Sinquefield.

The St. Louis NAACP and the Carpenters issued a joint statement Wednesday withdrawing the measure, citing the rising number of COVID-19 cases and the current political climate. The statement gave no indication whether they would try again at a later date.

Continued pandemic-related economic problems have resulted in crushing financial losses for the airline industry, conceivably limiting the amount of money any bidders seeking to lease the airport might have offered the city.

Reed said he would put his alternate Lambert privatization bill on a back burner now, and would not reintroduce it unless a new petition plan emerges aimed at a future election.

The Board of Aldermen had given preliminary approval to Reed’s proposal in June but began a two-month summer recess on June 17 without passing the measure.

A previous privatization effort was grounded last year, when Mayor Lyda Krewson withdrew an application Federal Aviation Administration to allow the city to consider privatizing the airport amid mounting criticism of the closed-door nature of the effort.
“Our elected leaders must put this scam to bed for good,” Harris said. “The public understands how privatizing our airport would only serve wealthy special interests and their cronies.”

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