July 17, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Over 1,000 struggling workers responsible for safeguarding some of the most sensitive areas at JFK and LaGuardia airports, will decide on Monday if their frustrating three-year fight for sustainable wages and benefits should culminate in a strike.
About half of all of the airports’ security officers, baggage handlers and wheelchair attendants actually rely on some form of public assistance just to get by.
At a 32BJ rally outside LaGuardia Airport last month, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman denounced the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and their contractors as bad employers who force taxpayers to underwrite their abysmal compensation packages.
"No one should work full-time and still be eligible for poverty benefits that are designed for people who are too poor to support themselves," the attorney general said.
Under increasing pressure, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey long ago announced its plan to introduce an enhanced wage and benefits package for employees by September 30, 2014 — but workers are still suffering with poverty wages.
Next week’s decision to strike is directed at Aviation Safeguards, a Delta Airlines subcontractor who workers say has repeatedly threatened and harassed those attempting to organize for better wages and benefits in line with the rest of the Fight for $15 movement.
In September, a 68 year-old JFK skycap who works for another contractor was actually sent home from work for wearing a “Contract Now” button.
“I was told to clock out and go home, and that the terminal manager does not want to see any more 32BJ buttons,” Geoffrey Benjamin told LaborPress.”
The National Labor Relations Board has tried to crack down on similar behavior involving Aviation Safeguards, but labor advocates say the threatening atmosphere at NYC’s top travel hubs persists.
In addition to Delta Airlines, low-wage employees threatening to strike next week also perform vital subcontracting work for United Airlines and British Airways as well.
Deborah Axt, – co-head of the Make the Road New York, and member of a new statewide low-wage worker task force incluidng RWDSU and 32BJ leaders Stuart Appelbaum and Hector Figueroa among others – voiced strong support for airport workers.
“The corporations involved here can certainly afford to pay a dignified wage,” Axt told LaborPress. “There is literally no reason every one of these workers shouldn't be making at least $15 an hour with benefits and the right organize. It’s in the interest of all the passengers and the community as well.”
Aviation Safeguards pays its security officers just $10.10 an hour to help protect the flying public.
And many airport workers, despite the sensitive nature of their duties, often stretch themselves to the limit, dividing their time between their jobs at JFK and LaGuardia airports, and other low-paying jobs, in the hopes it all will be enough to survive.