MSP Airport workers, taxi drivers affected by drop in passengers amidst virus outbreak

Several major airlines are now cutting thousands of flights as COVID-19 spreads and passengers re-book or cancel trips. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is feeling the effects.

“In times where there’s a crisis, it’s working-class people who are hit the hardest,” said Iris Altamirano, President of SEIU Local 26.

The union represents passenger service workers, including those who handle wheelchairs and carts, and clean the airport. They’re employees of an airport subcontractor.

Altamirano told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS they got about 85 layoff notices between Thursday and Friday, which take effect on Sunday.

“This is probably one of two jobs they have to hold and if they’re getting laid off from one, the second one isn’t enough to make ends meet,” she said.

The union is urging the Metropolitan Airports Commission to raise the minimum wage for employees to $15 per hour.

“The airlines will be getting the bailouts,” she said. “They [should] not forget about contracted workers and [should] take care of everyone from the very top to the very bottom.”

On Friday, the airport was quiet. Security lines were empty, as were check-in kiosks.

MSP Spokesperson Patrick Hogan told KSTP via email, “Over the last seven days (March 13-19), the number of passengers screened at MSP checkpoints has declined by nearly 59% from the same period a year ago.”

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He went on to say, “The rate of decline is increasing, with passenger numbers down 70.3% on Tuesday of this week, 77% on Wednesday and 84% on Thursday. Airlines have discontinued serving most international routes.”

According to Hogan, most airport concessions are still open.

Terminal 1 employees are now able to use the Terminal 1 parking ramps. Before the outbreak, space was limited at Terminal 1 so they parked at Terminal 2.

Parking at Terminal 1 is now only filled to about 20% of capacity, said Hogan. The new arrangement allows employees to avoid close contact on the light rail or bus between terminals.

For taxi drivers, the loss of passengers means a loss of revenue.

“We need our business back,” said Abdi Nasir Ahmed, who has been a taxi driver for about 15 years.

He’s one of several drivers who told KSTP they are lucky to get a single ride during a 10 to 16-hour day.

“I have a family expecting me to support them and I don’t have any business to support them,” he said. "We are in a crisis, we need help.”

Ahmed arrived to the taxi lot at 6 a.m. and still didn’t have a trip by 2 p.m.

For Abdiricak Matan, it’s the worst he’s seen in nearly a decade.

“I don’t get anything, I’m just waiting for a ride,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve seen it that bad, last four weeks.”

He told us he got one ride on Wednesday, it was a $10 fare.

“It means a lot to me,” said Matan. “I can’t pay my bills, I can’t feed my kids, I can’t do anything.”

They’re all hoping for relief.

“I hope we get out of this as soon as possible,” said Ahmed.

“TSA continues its operations uninterrupted to ensure that those who need to travel by air can do so,” said Lorie Dankers, a spokesperson for the Transportation Security Administration.

According to Dankers, TSA agents doing screening in close contact with the public are authorized to wear surgical masks. They’re also required to wear nitrile gloves when screening a passenger or their property.

“In addition, all of our employees are being encouraged to regularly wash their hands and cover their coughs,” said Dankers.

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