November 24, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Struggling airport workers waiting for the multibillion dollar airline industry to catch up with the rest of the Fight for $15 movement have begun pre-Thanksgiving fasts in 14 cities across the country to protest chronically low-wages that keep many baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, security officers and others on public assistance.
Twenty-four-hour fasts at JFK and LaGuardia Airports kicked off late Tuesday afternoon. Despite Governor Cuomo’s move to extend a $15 an hour minimum wage to workers outside the fast food industry, airport workers are still trying to get by on paltry $10 an hour salaries or less.
Alessandro Reyes, a 31-year-old father of one from Ozone Park, Queens earns just $300 a week cleaning airplanes operating out of LaGuardia Airport’s Terminal B.
“I’m out here fighting because it’s very hard to pay rent,” he said this week.
Almost 40 percent of airport workers nationwide are living in or near poverty, according to a UC Berkley Labor Center report.
Here in New York City, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is more than a year behind it’s own deadline to usher in higher wages at airports. Several high ranking officials, State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman among them, have strongly denounced the poverty wages at New York City travel hubs.
And back in June, 32 BJ SEIU Vice-President Rob Hill called LaGuardia Airport the "largest sweatshop in New York City.” Just last week, thousands of airline contract workers in seven U.S. cities, including New York City, walked off the job in protest of persistently low wages.
Still, change has not been forthcoming — far from it. Instead, workers who have rallied for a $15 an hour minimum wage and the right to unionize, report being threatened with retaliation.
“My supervisor told us that if we go with the union we would be fired,” said Carlos Vega, a Jet Blue employee who works at JFK Airport.
Last year, 68-year-old JFK skycap Geoffrey Benjamin was sent home from work after bosses spotted him wearing a pro-union button.
“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.
Thanksgiving marks the start of the busiest travel season of the year. About 25 million people are expected to take to the air this week.
The other cities involved in the holiday fast for living wages include Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston, Newark, Fort Lauderdale, Washington, D.C., Cleveland and Columbus.