November 8, 2013
By Marc Bussanich
Queens, NY—Airport workers gathered outside Terminal 8 at JFK Airport on Thursday to talk about how they can’t survive on the low wages paid by their employers. About 800 airport workers at JFK work as skycaps and clean the cabins of airplanes for a slew of different contractors to make sure they’re thoroughly cleaned before passengers board.
Several workers spoke at the press conference, including Shareeka Elliott whose job is making sure Terminal 8 is spotless. Elliott works for Airway Cleaners earning $7.90 an hour, or about $260 per week before taxes. She obviously can’t survive on that salary as a mother of two children; she relies on government programs such as cash assistance (provided by the federally funded Temporary Aid to Needy Families Program), food stamps and Medicaid to help make ends meet.
“Without those programs, it pretty much would be a wrap for me and my family,” said Elliott.
Other workers said they work under similar working conditions at the airport. According to 32BJ, the union that represents building service workers, and is supporting airport workers in their campaign to improve working conditions at the regional airports, the major airlines such as American Airlines, Delta and United Airlines contract out work to numerous contractors who trip over each other trying to win contracts by offering the lowest bid.
Another worker, David Harrison, works as a skycap for Alstate Maintenance and said he only earns $4.15 an hour as a tipped employee, which violates state law of a minimum of $5.50 an hour. He and his fellow co-workers contacted the Attorney General’s office last month to notify Eric Schneiderman that Alstate is illegally underpaying them.
Airport workers at the regional airports have been organizing for over a year to improve their economic conditions. Back in May when Delta executives were celebrating the grand opening of the $1.4 billion Terminal 4 workers protested to highlight the plight of their low pay.
They are gearing up for another big event at LaGuardia Airport next Tuesday, November 12 where Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, who ran on bringing progressive change to the city, is expected to speak to show support.
Elliott is looking forward to de Blasio’s appearance next week.
“I hope he says that this is terrible and promises that changes will happen,” said Elliott.
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