I came to America running away from war and political unrest. With my home country of South Sudan caught up in an endless conflict, I wanted peace more than anything. So I came to America, the land of opportunity. I’ve found security and I’m grateful. But for almost two years at Logan Airport, I, along with over 1,500 contracted service workers, have worked under hellish conditions.
So recently I decided to quit. I couldn’t handle it anymore. Why? The low pay –$8 an hour. It was so low that I had to rely on food stamps to get by. Without benefits – no sick time or vacation– it was impossible for me to take care of myself when I was sick or try to improve my life by going to school. And the lack of respect—I dealt with insults and intimidation that were hurtful and humiliating.
I’ve carried heavy baggage before but this load was too much to handle.
Airport workers perform essential duties to make the gateways to our cities safe and welcoming. We clean terminals and aircrafts, push wheelchairs, handle baggage, check tickets and work to keep airports safe and secure. But to cut costs, the airlines have outsourced thousands of jobs that once belonged to their own employees. To replace them, airlines hire low-bid contractors, often irresponsible ones, creating a race to the bottom for wages and benefits.
I spent 11 years living in a refugee camp in Kenya, but there at least I always had the hope of something better. Between having my hygiene questioned and going to work when I was sick just to make ends meet, life at the airport felt unbearable. Sometimes I think that working for G2 Secure Staff at Logan Airport was worse than living in the camp.
Thankfully, the office of Massachusetts’ Attorney General is taking action. On July 23, the AG ordered ReadyJet, one of the largest contractors at Logan, to pay employees $13,045 restitution plus a civil penalty of $5,000. The investigation, involving more than 30 workers at ReadyJet continues. But workers need change at the airport. A change that gives them dignity and a voice.
Most airport workers play by the rules. They work hard every day to keep the airport running. Now they demand living wages and benefits, better and safer working conditions and the right to have a union. In the land of opportunity, is that too much to ask?