NEW YORK- Thousands gathered from New York and New Jersey and headed to Newark Liberty International Airport this afternoon to demand $15 and a union for Newark Airport workers. Led by airport workers and fast food workers, community members and elected officials marched through the halls of Newark Liberty International Airport, eventually holding a sit-in at Terminal C to demand that Newark Airport workers not be treated as second class citizens and be given a $15 minimum wage like their colleagues at New York airports. Airport workers also called on contractor Primeflight to recognize their union rights, raise wages and provide benefits to its workers.
• For high quality video or photos of the actions contact Amity Paye or Desiree Taylor (contacts above)
“I have worked at Newark Airport for more than 20 years so I know first-hand how difficult it is to survive on poverty wages,” said Nancy Vazquez. “Like too many other contracted airport workers, I often have to choose between paying the rent or putting food on the table. Meanwhile, airlines are making record profits. It’s time to right this wrong. It’s time for Primeflight to give it’s airport workers what they deserve. Today, working people across the country are raising their voices. And we won’t back down until we win justice, a $15 wage and union rights.”
Tuesday’s actions were part of a rush of protests at airports around the country, marking an intensification of the participation in the Fight for $15 by airport workers, who have been linking arms with fast-food and other underpaid workers as the movement has grown. Skycaps, wheelchair attendants, baggage handlers and cabin cleaners point to jobs at the nation’s airports as a symbol of what’s gone wrong for working Americans. Four decades ago, every job in an airport was a good, family-sustaining one. Men and women worked directly for the major airlines, which paid a living wage, provided pensions and health care and respected Americans’ right to stick together in a union.
That’s no longer the case. Today, most Americans who work at airports are non-union and are employed by subcontractors that pay low wages, without any benefits. Their jobs now represent the failures of a political and economic system geared towards the wealthy few and corporate profits at any cost. Between 2002 and 2012 outsourcing of baggage porter jobs more than tripled, from 25 percent to 84 percent, while average hourly real wages across both directly-hired and outsourced workers declined by 45 percent, to $10.60/hour from more than $19/hour. Average weekly wages in the airport operations industry did not keep up with inflation, but instead fell by 14 percent from 1991 to 2011.
The strikes and protests in New York and Newark are part of a nationwide day of action that includes McDonald’s and other fast-food workers walking off their jobs in 340 cities from coast to coast, demanding $15 and union rights; baggage handlers, cabin cleaners and skycaps walking picket lines at Boston Logan International Airport and Chicago O’Hare International Airport to protest against unfair labor practices, including threats, intimidation and retaliation when they tried to join together for higher pay and union rights; Uber drivers in two-dozen cities idling their cars calling for a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work; and hospital workers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who won a path to $15 earlier this year, joining in too, fighting for union rights.
At a civil disobedience in New York early Tuesday morning, hundreds from the coalition engaged in civil disobedience and 26 workers were arrested in front of a McDonald’s in Manhattan to protest retaliation and other unfair treatment at the fast food giant’s stores in New York City. McDonald’s and other fast food workers are on strike today in New York City and across the country.
“We are here today because we face retaliation in our stores for the gains we’ve made in our pay and for our continued effort to fight for better jobs,” said McDonald’s worker Jorel Ware who lives in the Bronx. “I’m ready to face arrest and put my own safety and freedom on the line because we’re still fighting for a union here in New York City and a $15 minimum wage for fast food and all low-wage workers across the country.”
The diverse coalition of the Fight for $15 in New York includes fast food workers, airport workers, Uber drivers and messengers and many others who are joining community members to demand good jobs and union rights, no deportations, an end to police killings of black people and to say, hands off our health care.The resounding chant at the airports and in the streets on Tuesday was, “We won’t back down” and around the country workers showed this resolve. The 2016 elections were defined by frustration with the rigged economy and for low-wage workers in New York City, immigrants, people of color and a range of progressive and community groups this was the first moment to come together to say: we won’t back down. On the four-year anniversary of the first fast food strike in New York, workers are holding their biggest actions ever across the country.
“After four years, fast food, airport and other low-wage workers have made big gains in New York but there is still so much they are fighting for,” said 32BJ President Hector Figueroa. “The members of 32BJ are proud to stand with these workers because they are our family members and our neighbors and we know that now more than ever, we need unite to raise wages, form unions and improve the lives of all working people in this country. Our fight is for economic justice, social justice and immigrant justice – we know these are all linked and we must win them all to maintain the promise of freedom and opportunity that our country prides itself on.”
Elected officials and community members joined in on this call for freedom and opportunity for all. Elected officials –New York Assemblyman Francisco Moya, New York City Councilmembers Brad Lander, Antonio Reynoso and Mark Lavine– were arrested during the morning civil disobedience in New York and Sen Raymond Lesniak,Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, East Orange Mayor Lester Taylor. Assemblyman Jamel Holley, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti, Hudson County Freeholder Bill O’Dea and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano supported the march at Newark Airport.
“In the aftermath of the presidential election, it has become even more urgent for people of all backgrounds to come together to raise their voices and fight for social and economic justice,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, who led the sit-in at Newark Airport. “I stand with Newark Airport workers and the thousands of other low-paid workers across the country who are marching, rallying and protesting today. We will continue to support these hardworking men and women to ensure they get what they deserve—at least a $15 minimum wage and union rights.”
With 155,000 members in eleven states and Washington, D.C., including 70,000 in New York City, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.