After unionizing in 2004, employees for the Hudson News stands in BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport gained employer sponsored healthcare and a pension. The Hudson employees union, which has been without a new contract since October 2013, are now in negotiations with Hudson, fighting to preserve the benefits won against the company’s efforts to roll them back.

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Hudson News Airport Newstand.

Employees at the BWI Hudson stores, which include a bookstore and newsstand, are organized under UNITE HERE! Local 7, a union representing workers in various industries including the hotel, food service, and airport industries, according to their website. Sara Benjamin, a committee leader with UNITE HERE! and a Hudson Group employee since April 2013, said that of the approximately 50 cashiers currently working for Hudson at BWI 44 have signed in support of the union’s efforts and 30 are active members. “There a lot of people that are afraid, and we’re fighting for job security but there a lot of people that don’t want to fight because they’re afraid … they don’t want to get fired,” said Benjamin.

Hudson employees are currently the only group of unionized concession workers at BWI airport. Other employees at the airport work directly for the Maryland Aviation Administration, are unionized, and have a minimum salary set at $13.45 per hour. Employees at airport concession stands are hired directly by the companies they work for and earn, on average, $9.01 per hour in the case of non-tipped workers, with a median wage of $8.50, according to a survey of BWI concessions workers released in February 2014 by UNITE HERE!.

Hudson employees currently start at $9 an hour, a higher starting salary than many other concessions workers, and enjoy pension and health insurance benefits that other concessions workers at the airport do not receive. “The employers (Hudson) look at that and say, ‘Look, why are we giving a retirement plan,’ or ‘why are we giving health insurance if these other employers aren’t?’” said Tracy Lingo, an organizer with UNITE HERE! Local 7. “And so it’s a very pivotal piece of the fight at the airport for those workers to continue to move forward.”

The Hudson employees are fighting to preserve their gains on healthcare and retirement funding, as well as push for greater wage increases. Without a new contract since October 2013, the union put on demonstrations three times this year – May 1, May 22, and June 19 – in their attempts to force Hudson to the negotiating table and to meet some of their demands.

Craig Johnson, the Hudson negotiator, refused to comment on the state of the talks when contacted by the AFRO.

The original healthcare agreement between Hudson and the union stipulated that Hudson cover 79 percent of the cost of insurance, with employees contributing the remainder. Benjamin said the union wants to preserve the approximately 80/20 split, but wants to eliminate language allowing Hudson to unilaterally change the formula and pass any resulting cost increases to employees.

Hudson wanted to eliminate the employee pension, citing the high turnover rate for employees, according to Benjamin. Currently, Hudson has offered to keep the pension on the condition that it is presented as an employee opt-in 401K retirement plan.

On the wage front, union and Hudson negotiators have agreed to raises of $0.45 after the first year of a three year employment contract, and $0.30 after each of the subsequent two years. Negotiations have hit a snag, however, over the issue of retroactive raises.

Because the union’s contract with Hudson expired October 2013, employees due a raise have yet to receive it. Union representatives have asked for a $280 bonus for current employees to make up for the lost wages related to the contract delay. Hudson countered with $100, and has since raised that figure to $125. “That’s still not acceptable,” said Benjamin.

Roberto Alejandro

Special to the AFRO