THURSDAY, APRIL 23, 2015 — Last week, airport workers turned out to support fast food workers in the Fight for $15 national day of action. Today fast food workers, students, car washers and other low-wage workers returned the favor.
“On April 15, I saw airport workers around the country stand with us in the fight for $15. Airport workers and all low wage workers deserve respect on the job,” said Jose Sanchez, a fast food worker at Domino’s. “I am supporting striking Aviation Safeguards baggage handlers and wheelchair attendants because I know, if we stand up for each other, we can all win.”
After receiving renewed, illegal threats, 250 baggage handlers and wheelchair attendants working for the airline subcontractor Aviation Safeguards walked off the job today and went on strike over these unfair labor practices. The strike started at 3 a.m. and includes multiple shifts of workers.
Aviation Safeguards services British Airways and Delta at both LaGuardia and JFK airports and has a history of violations at the airports. During the last two years, Aviation Safeguards baggage handlers and wheelchair attendants have filed various lawsuits and complaints about unfair labor practices, health and safety violations and wage theft against their employer. Aviation Safeguards employees have been fighting alongside 12,000 other subcontracted airport workers in New York and New Jersey for higher wages, benefits and the right to union representation and are included in the majority of contracted airport workers who report financial hardship due to the low wages and benefits they make at the airports. The majority are forced to rely on government subsidies to survive.
When Aviation Safeguards airport workers began to take action and call for the workplace changes they need, Aviation Safeguards sent a threatening letter stating that employees who engage in certain strikes “are not protected. This means participating employees may be disciplined or even fired.” Region 29 of The National Labor Relations Board found that this was an illegal threat and in February a group of Aviation Safeguards baggage handlers held a one-day strike to protest this intimidation and unfair labor practice. But the abuses didn’t stop. In fact the company sent a letter threatening the same thing. Today a much larger group of Aviation Safeguards employees said, “enough is enough,” and directly defied their employer threats by going on strike.
“The second letter was the last straw, why would Aviation Safeguards send us a letter that had already been found to be illegal?” said Pedro Gamboa, an Aviation Safeguards baggage handler at JFK Airport. “I am on strike today in order to show Aviation Safeguards that I will continue fighting for a better life for me and my coworkers.”
Striking Aviation Safeguards employees were supported by a growing movement of low-wage workers who have been standing up for each other in the fight for a $15 minimum wage and a union.
“I have stood up for fast food workers and I am standing up for airport workers today because I know that every hard working person in this country deserves respect on the job and wages that can actually support them,” Said Robert Ascherman, a student at NYU. “Last week it was inspiring to see airport workers standing with me in the Fight for $15 actions, and I want to make sure I return the favor.”
More than 100 low wage workers attended a strike rally at the airport along with community groups NYCC and Make the Road, elected officials including NY City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and airport workers from other contractors. New York City Councilman Ben Kallos, will join airport workers later in the day.
“All workers must have the right to organize. I am proud to be here with airline workers demanding these basic rights from Aviation safeguards. I stand with them as they fight for higher wages to support themselves and their families and freedom from harassment,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, who served as a Union-Side Labor Attorney.
“Every worker deserves a living wage, access to quality healthcare & benefits,” said New York City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer. “I’m the proud son of union parents and I’m prouder still to join Laguardia Airport workers as they demand justice and dignity. The work performed by these men and women is critical to the safety and security of airport travelers and that work must be valued.”
After rallying at the airport, Aviation Safeguards employees took their fight to the streets of Manhattan and held a second rally outside British Airways’ headquarters at 2 Park Avenue.
“This strike was not against British Airways but workers thought it was important to urge the highly successful airline to tell its contractor to treat airport workers right,”said Hector Figueroa, President of 32BJ, the union which the majority of workers voted to be their union representative. “It is not easy to be a baggage handler or a wheelchair attendant at the airport, especially if you are making poverty wages. But today Aviation Safeguards’ hardworking employees showed that they are not afraid to stand up for their rights under the law.”
With more than 145,000 members, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service union in the country