September 18, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
Queens, NY – JFK Airport workers fed up with their boss’s relentless anti-union campaign staged a one-day protest outside Terminal One this week – and they say more actions can be expected if management doesn’t quit harassing and spying on workers supportive of 32BJ SEIU.
Skycap Geoffrey Benjamin, 68, was sent home from work last week after Alstate Maintenance supervisors busted him for wearing a 32BJ button on his uniform. The Canarsie resident had been wearing the same "Contract Now" button at work for the last eight months.
“I was told to clock out and go home, and that the terminal manager does not want to see any more 32BJ buttons,” Benjamin told LaborPress.
Last May, low-wage airport workers like Benjamin voted to designate 32BJ SEIU as their union. But managers have balked and refused to sit down with the group to hammer out a fair contract.
In August, the National Labor Relations Board backed up worker claims that Alstate managers threatened pro-32BJ employees with reprisals, while also promising to favor those who agreed to abandon the union. A further hearing is slated for next month.
“I think that it’s just wrong,” said skycap Sachem Medard. “To me, they’re doing this because 32BJ is a threat to them. The union is standing up and fighting for our rights.”
The 35-year-old father of two from East Orange, New Jersey, is considered a full-time worker, although he says he has never been able to log a 40-hour work week in his nearly 10 years with Alstate Maintenance, and enjoys no health benefits.
“No one wants to go on strike, but the improper conduct and harassment by Alstate has given these workers no other choice, said Hector Figueroa, president, 32BJ SEIU. “They have fought valiantly for two years, and have won pay raises, but these contractors refuse to negotiate and are harassing workers who simply want to exercise their right to join a union of their choice.”
Councilmember Julissa Ferreras (D-21st Councilmanic Distrct), chair of the Finance Committee, said that the airlines and their affiliates are more concerned with “frequent flyers” than the people who work for them.
“We are not scared,” Councilmember Ferreras said in solidarity. “If we have to be here ever day until we get justice, we will be here.”
Union officials say that Alstate managers attempted to prevent several workers from taking part in the Terminal One rally held on September 17. Supporters later accompanied a group of between 50 and 60 workers who did take park in the one-day strike when they eventually returned to their duties. No incidences were reported.
This week’s walkout in New York coincided with similar actions in Boston, Philadelphia and Florida. The Port Authority has just two weeks left in a self-imposed deadline to present a long-term plan that ensures workers good pay, meaningful benefits and the right to collective bargaining.