April 8, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco

JFK workers pack IDA public hearing.
JFK workers pack IDA public hearing.

New York, NY – In less than two short months, Delta Airlines will debut its new $1.2 billion international hub inside Terminal Four at JFK Airport – courtesy of a plethora of tax-free bonds from the NYC Industrial Development Agency [IDA]. But even with so much money infused into the project, low-paid workers charged with keeping the whole thing safe and secure will still barely earn enough to survive. (Watch Video)

On Thursday, JFK security officers, cleaners and traffic agents making between $7.25- and $9-an-hour, packed a public hearing room at the IDA’s Manhattan offices, calling on city officials to make the next round of tax-free financing contingent upon providing sub-contractors with better wages and affordable health care. 

“If tax-payer money is going to be going to the airports, we’d like that to be tied to good jobs,” said 32 BJ Organizing Coordinator Rob Murray.

Over the last 10 years, major airlines operating out of JFK have enjoyed almost $3 billion in tax-free financing. 

According to Delta Airlines, the carrier has doubled its JFK employee headcount from 3,500 workers to over 7,000, within the same timeframe. The airline also promises that hundreds of new jobs will be created as part of the overall Terminal 4 project. 

The Building and Construction Trade Council of Greater New York, Queens Chamber of Commerce, Non-Traditional Employment for Women, and Partnership for New York City, all testified before the IDA in favor of extending more tax-free financing to Delta. 

None, however, talked about the plight of security officers, cleaners and traffic agents who often have to work two jobs in order to scrape by. When asked, a Delta official touting the benefits of Delta’s new terminal, could not even say exactly how many JFK sub-contractors the airline employs.

“A couple of people have asked you to support the next phase of these loans,” JFK Security Officer Prince Jackson said.  “We deserve to get some of that money.”

Jackson and his colleagues implored IDA officials to consider the importance of their duties and the compensation that they presently receive. 

“We do the security for Delta Airlines,” Jackson said. “It’s not the TSA. It’s not anyone except sub-contracted security companies. We guard the passenger exit doors, the employee exit doors, the traffic in front of the terminals, mobile patrol. We do the security – and yet, we only make $8-an-hour.”

JFK security officers have little time for family
JFK security officer cares for child at IDA hearing.

In addition the paltry pay and insanely long work hours, JFK sub-contractors testified that they also cannot affordto get sick. 

“Many people believe that the airport workers receive the best benefits,” said a mother and security officer who works for two different companies at JFK.  “But for many of us, that is not the case. I do not have affordable health benefits, paid sick days, or any real recognition for the work that we do for Air Serv and American Airlines. We are at the bottom of the barrel, and we are overlooked when it comes to any sort of funding that the airport receives.”

Last December,  fed up JFK security officers were just about to go on strike during the height of the holiday travel season, before finally being dissuaded from moving ahead in the final hour. 

“For the last decade, [the airlines have been saying] that they need money to provide good jobs,” said JFK Security Officer Darren Williams. “But who is that benefiting?” Because it’s not benefitting sub-contracted workers. I shouldn’t feel trapped. I’m 20 and look 30. What more do we need to do to prove that we need help. If you’re going to give the money to Delta, let it benefit all of us as a whole.  If we didn’t do our job, the airport would be a disaster. To only do it for $8-an-hour is not right.”

The IDA’s decision regarding the next round of airport financing is expected next week. 


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