- Disrespected and abused, non-union contracted aviation service workers in Boston to strike again-
WHAT: Logan airport subcontracted workers strike
- Thursday, June 15 at 7:30 AM: Picket lines up on Terminal C lowel level/arrivals and by the Airport T stop.
- 11:30 AM: Rally at East Boston Memorial Park (right by Airport T stop)
WHO: FFS Inc. wheelchair assistants, supporters, elected officials.
Boston, MA—Non-union airport passenger service workers employed by Flight Services and Systems, Inc., a JetBlue contractor, are planning to go on strike Thursday June 15 to protest the constant disrespect, abuse and lawbreaking practices of a company with a troubling record. After an investigation, the National Labor Relations Board found that FSS Inc. has repeatedly threatened employees for lawful organizing union activity. The workers, most of them immigrants from West Africa and the Middle East, are walking out for a second time in less than a year. Since 2015 there have been 7 subcontracted workers’ strikes at Logan Airport.
“For immigrant workers like me, the abuse and disrespect at Logan airport is constant,” said Sadia Mohamed a FSS wheelchair assistant who has been verbally abused simply for wearing a hijab. “On top of the threat and disrespect from ignorant people we have to deal with an employer that breaks the law and threatens people. Enough is enough.”
“Airport workers at Logan are routinely disrespected and threatened when they seek to organize and neglected by many irresponsible employers,” said Roxana Rivera Vice President of 32BJ SEIU. “The decades-in-the-making race to the bottom in the aviation service industry has created a system so dysfunctional that is forcing workers to walk out of their jobs to try to stop the abuse. These are all symptoms of the bigger problem: the low-bid contracting system at the airport is a hazard for workers and for passengers. It’s a hazard for the city as a whole.”
FSS’s troubling record at U.S. airports in recent years tells a story about a company that only with corner-cutting practices that could put the airlines they serve and members of the traveling public at risk. Employees at airports are responsible for maintaining safe practices, and for helping maintain order and passenger safety when unexpected events occur. Yet, the behavior of FSS towards these employees reflects a pattern of failing to meet even the most basic requirements: numerous wage and hour violations have been documented, along with instances of retaliation and racial discrimination.
- Wage Theft.Since 2012, FSS has paid out over $240,000 to employees alleging wage theft. In some cases they have attempted to excuse this conduct based on their own faulty recordkeeping, for which they have also been cited.
- In July 2016, FSS reached a $223,520 settlement in a class action wage theft suit filed by former employees at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. Under the terms of the settlement, payment was made to employees who worked for FSS at the New Orleans airport at any time within a three year period, during which the company allegedly failed to pay overtime and the minimum wage by “shaving” four to five hours per week from each employee’s pay.[i]The original plaintiff accused FSS of failing to pay any wages at all above 40 hours, despite his regularly working 50 to 60 hour weeks.
- In September 2014, FSS was ordered to pay $2,691 in back wages to two wheelchair dispatchers at the Dallas/Fort-Worth Airport for forcing them to work during unpaid breaks, and was also found not to have kept accurate records.[ii]
- In 2013, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office ordered FSS to pay $4,129 in back wages to wheelchair attendants for failure to pay the minimum wage, having instead required the employees to falsify tips.[iii]
- In 2012, FSS was ordered to pay $12,720 in back wages to 183 employees at the Denver International Airport, along with $40,260 in civil penalties, for failing to pay the minimum wage or keep accurate records.[iv]
- Retaliation Lawsuit.In 2014, an FSS skycap for JetBlue at Logan Airport in Boston was awarded nearly $1 million for a retaliatory firing that took place after supervisors pressured him to drop an earlier lawsuit against FSS and JetBlue concerning tipping practices. Court documents state that CEO Robert A. Weitzel “repeatedly yelled at” the general manager over the phone to fire the employee, and supervisors at Logan soon complied.[v] Although FSS argued that the firing was for unrelated reasons, the judge wrote that the employee had “found himself in the CEO’s crosshairs” as a result of his leading role in the tip lawsuit, and that the firing was clearly retaliatory given Weitzel’s behavior.
- Training and Emergency Preparedness. As the tragic shooting incident at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport demonstrated, airports nationwide are woefully underprepared to deal with unexpected events which threaten passenger safety. In light of these events, poor training practices of FSS are cause for great concern.
- FSS staff at Boston Logan International Airport report that they do not receive adequate training in procedures for handling wheelchair-bound passengers in emergency situations, that they are unsure of what procedure would be followed by the company in such cases, and that they feel unprepared to deal with such a situation due to inadequate training by the company. Should a fire, active shooter, or a security breach occur in the airport, disabled passengers being served by FSS may be endangered by the company’s lack of serious effort to ensure that wheelchair attendants are fully prepared to respond.
While airlines across the country have been making record profits, the airport workers who make these profits possible are struggling to survive in jobs that pay poverty wages, provide little to no affordable health care, and few paid days off. Various studies have shown that these working conditions can directly affect airport worker’s families and their communities. Like fast food workers, who they have supported during similar strikes, airport workers have been organizing for the past three years and have committed to do whatever it takes to win $15 and union rights.
Logan Airport, New England’s largest transportation center brings more than $7 billion in economic activity to the area, but many of the workers there do not reap the benefits. To cut costs, airlines like JetBlue outsource passenger service jobs to low-bid contractors. This low-bid system leaves cabin cleaners, wheelchair attendants and baggage handlers who allow the airport to run making as little as $11 an hour and without access to affordable health benefits.
With 165,000 members in eleven states and Washington, D.C., 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.