QUEENS, N.Y. (May 16, 2013) – Elected officials, clergy and Southeast Queens residents tonight called for community input and fair treatment of sub-contracted workers as JFK Airport expands and Delta Airlines renovates a major terminal.
“I read in the paper the other day that Delta Airlines is doing quite well these days, that it is turning profits and paying its shareholders dividends,” City Council member Donovan Richards said. “The question I have is: Where are the dividends for our communities? Where are the good jobs they promised us when we gave them tax-exempt financing to expand and renovate Terminal 4 at Kennedy Airport?”
Richards, State Senator James Sanders, City Council Member Leroy Comrie, New York Communities For Change members, airport workers, civic associations, clergy leaders and residents attended the community forum at Maranatha Baptist Church in Queens Village.
Panelists included Civic Association representative Bonnie Huie; Paul Sonn, legal co-director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP); airport worker Tasleema Mohamed; Archbishop Russell James and community leader Richard Hogan.
Despite significant public investment in JFK, there are thousands of low-wage subcontracted airport service workers, working for the airlines and terminal operators like JFK IAT, which operates Terminal 4, struggling to get by on wages as low as $8 an hour with no meaningful benefits.
“JFK is a good place to work, but it could be better if we were provided with the wages and benefits that allow us to raise a family,” airport worker Tasleema Mohamed said. “I know that we are not directly hired by the airlines but, because they hire the contractors that employ us, they actually have a lot of power in how we are treated. The Port Authority should solve this problem by requiring all contractors at the airport to provide decent wages, affordable health care and paid sick leave.”
Sonn said the country “has seen a decimation of middle class jobs since 2007. He said most of the new positions in the past several years have been low-wage jobs.
“Airports are a microcosm of what has happened in our country’s economy,” Sonn said. “Decades ago, most airport jobs were good, union jobs. Through a combination of reducing the compensation of their direct employees and subcontracting out other services to private companies, airlines have profited on the backs of airport workers”
Airports in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Miami, St. Louis and Syracuse have living wage policies. For domestic carriers flying out of JFK, paying workers a living wage, with health benefits and paid sick leave would only be 1.2% of their annual revenue.”
In 2011, the median take-home salary for an airline subcontracted JFK airport worker was about $17,500. The national poverty level for a family of 4 is $23,550, almost 25% higher than what most JFK workers are earning.
Advocates say airlines and other terminal leaseholders at JFK Airport have benefited from over $2.1 billion in tax-exempt financing over the last decade, and just last month the IDA approved $200 million in tax-exempt financing for Delta Airlines’ expansion of Terminal 4.
“As we go forward, we have to ask the question who is looking out for us, looking out for people in our communities?” said NYCC member Roderine Denbow, who lives in Rosedale, Queens. “Poverty wages for the critical jobs at Kennedy Airport are not going to cut it. Airlines cannot continue building profits on the backs of our citizens, on our sweat, on our tears.”