by Newton Ingram
Every day I watch thousands of tourists get off planes and head for the sandy beaches of Ft. Lauderdale or the cruise ship terminals dotting the coast. These tourists don’t know that the airport workers who cleaned their plane, carried their bags and helped them to their gate are facing intense bullying from their employers.
But today they will know.
Today, my co-workers and I are on strike at FLL because our employers G2 and Eulen—contractors hired by the airlines—are retaliating against workers who speak up for better wages and treatment.
I work hard lifting heavy suitcases for passengers all day and yet I need two jobs just to make ends meet. I earn $5.03 an hour plus tips. My tips vary, but are often just $20 a day extra. I can’t afford health insurance and don’t have paid sick time or vacation days.
My wife and I take help care for my mother in law who has expensive medical bills. We are barely making it work. I always feel like I am one paycheck or one expensive health bill away from total poverty.
One day I made the decision that I must fight to improve our jobs at the airport. It’s simply about survival for all of us.
In the four years that I have been working as a baggage handler for G2 at FLL, I have only seen things get worse. Since we began organizing for a union, our employers have taken every opportunity to crack down.
We face threats and intimidation for speaking out all time. Recently, I was suspended for three days for wearing a sticker that says, “Poverty Doesn’t Fly.” Losing three days’ pay is a big deal when you’re only making $5.03 an hour plus a small amount of tips. I filed unfair labor practice charges and won back pay. G2 agreed to pay my back wages plus interest. But I lost the tips that I would have earned, which is a major setback. When these companies call the shots: even when you win, you lose.
Some of the G2’s abuses are almost absurd. When co-workers and I visited G2’s offices to express concerns over a new policy forcing us to work off the clock, an HR manager stopped us dead in our tracks. She said she refused to accept the word “we” when addressing her and would not recognize any group. Well, today, WE are on strike together—as a group.
For me and my co-workers, these bullying tactics have just emboldened us. WE are going to keep going so that we can win the respect and dignity we deserve on the job.
WE make the airlines profitable. WE make things run. WE play a huge part in the success and profits of the companies we work for. At the very least, WE should be able to fight for better working conditions, without fear and intimidation.