May 13, 2014
By Marc Bussanich
New York, NY—Hundreds of airport workers gathered on Monday at Riverside Church to vote overwhelmingly for union representation by 32BJ SEIU, the property services union that has been leading the tough fight to organize over 12,000 low-wage workers at the region’s three main airports. WATCH VIDEO OF UNION VOTE
Back in January the Port Authority, the bi-state agency that operates the three main airports, led by its executive director, Patrick Foye, issued an order to the major airlines that workers making $9 per hour or less be given a $1-an-hour raise immediately, followed by a phase-in to President Obama’s $10.10 minimum wage proposal that was defeated in the Senate two weeks ago.
Hector Figueroa, 32BJ’s President, told the workers on the 9th floor of the Riverside Church, the interdenominational congregation where Martin Luther King Jr. once spoke, said that although the Port Authority’s board voted on April 23 to approve a higher wage, many workers still have not seen an increase.
“Brothers and sisters, unfortunately, some of the workers haven’t seen the $1 increase. On the promise of when the $10.10 is going to happen we really don’t have a certain date,” said Figueroa.
In an interview, Robert Hill, 32BJ’s Vice President, said with the workers now voting to join the union, the union will be able to negotiate directly with the Port Authority and the contractors the airlines outsource work to.
“We have to get the Port Authority to set a wage standard, a road for parity with other workers at the Port Authority [that earn better wages]. We're also going to go to the contractors and say these workers deserve to be on par. The airlines and contractors should start [negotiating] with these workers,” said Hill.
Showing support for the workers was former mayor and former Bronx Borough President David Dinkins and Fernando Ferrer, respectively. Dinkins noted he worked many different jobs as young man trying to make a buck.
“I shined shoes, washed cars, washed dishes, worked in factories. I’ve had all kinds of jobs. So I understand what’s it like working service jobs,” said Dinkins.
After they spoke, the majority of workers who work for 14 different contractors voted yea to join 32BJ’s ranks.