(Fort Lauderdale) As vacation goers prepare to fly to and from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport (FLL) for Labor Day Weekend, airport workers went on strike Tuesday morning to protest repeat labor violations by airline contractors, G2 Secure Staff and Eulen America, that are preventing employees from organizing to improve poverty wages and poor working conditions. Both companies, which service Spirit, Southwest, American Airlines, JetBlue, and others, are currently under federal investigation by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for violating workers’ rights.
“Enough is enough. I am the first contact that passengers have with the airlines, lifting heavy bags and making sure they have a positive experience from the moment they step into the airport. We make the airlines profitable. We make things run,” said Newton Ingram, a skycap for G2 who works two jobs just to support his family. “We should be able to benefit from the success that we contribute to. At the very least, we should be able to fight for better working conditions, without fear and intimidation.”
The Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is responsible for 135,000 jobs and has an estimated annual economic impact of about $10.6 billion. And yet, unbeknownst to most Floridians, the airport has a shadow economy in which hundreds of workers struggle with poverty wages, without access to affordable health benefits or sick days. That’s because the airlines–who are earning record breaking, billion dollar profits—are outsourcing their jobs to low-bid contractors who routinely cut costs on the backs of employees.
Sandra Smith, a wheelchair attendant who works for two airline contractors, G2 and Eulen, takes a 2 hour bus ride every day to the airport, where she earns $8.50 and $8.05 an hour, qualifying her for food stamp benefits.
“We simply cannot survive on the wages we are earning,” said Sandra. “I work more than 50 hours a week, assisting wheelchair bound passengers. I love my job and I love helping people. But it’s not fair that I make so little that I can only afford to live in a one-room apartment with my grown daughter. I certainly can’t afford to go to the doctor if I get sick. All we’re asking for are livable wages, decent benefits, and the respect and dignity we deserve on the job.”
For over two years, FLL airport workers have been organizing for living wages and better treatment on the job. These wheelchair attendants, baggage handlers, cabin cleaners and others, who earn an average of $8.14 an hour and have no meaningful benefits, are excluded from Broward County’s $13.20 Living Wage Ordinance. Salaries are so low that 29% of workers at FLL must rely on some of government assistance, including food stamps or housing assistance.
In contrast, their G2 and Eulen counterparts at Miami International Airport, who are covered by the Miami-Dade living wage law, earn as much as $14.27 per hour.
Attempts to organize to improve wages and working conditions have been met with continued intimidation and retaliation. Eulen recently paid a $21,000 settlement to former employee, Marc Gatterau, who was fired after appearing on television and at a rally protesting low wages.
Earlier this summer, G2 workers went on strike after the NLRB found that the contractor engaged in retaliatory tactics for engaging in union activity, including suspending workers. Both companies are again under investigation for new charges of threats and coercion, including reports that G2 management took surveillance photos of striking workers.
Paula Castillo earns $8.50 an hour working as a passenger service representative for Eulen, which services American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue and others. She says she was ordered to take a pin off that said, “We need a living wage”, because Eulen is an “anti-union company”.
“Many of us who work here have emigrated from countries where we don’t have the right to organize and stand up for our rights,” said Esperanza Ariza, a G2 worker. “But If I can’t fight for better working conditions here, in the United States of America, where can I?”
The strike coincided with a rally outside the Broward County Commissioners Meeting, where Congressman Alcee Hastings, faith leaders, and community members joined workers in demanding they finally close the loophole in the County’s Living Wage Ordinance, which allows contractors like G2 and Eulen to maximize their profits by shortchanging its employees.
“This is part of a national movement to improve working conditions for low wage earners and their families,” said Congressman Alcee Hastings. “We must ensure that companies respect their workers’ to organize for better wages and benefits.”
The commission introduced a bill in May to extend the ordinance to include contracted airport workers and commissioned a study on the issue. But two more motions are needed in order to advance the measure and the study, which should have been done in July, is still not completed. Advocates say once this loophole is closed, it will inject an additional $14 million per year into Broward’s economy and communities.
With more than 145,000 members in 11 states, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.