FORT LAUDERDALE, FL—At a raucous community rally on the steps of Broward County Commission Hall today, contracted airport workers and their supporters—including local clergy from Miami-Dade and Broward County—pledge solidarity and vow to fight recent suspensions of union activists and to continue to work to end poor working conditions and low pay without adequate or affordable benefits at one of the region’s premier economic engines.
“We, Fort Lauderdale Airport workers, have a right to come together to try to improve working standards at this airport,” Newton Ingram told his audience. “We shouldn’t have to deal with supervisors harassing us, threatening us, trying to intimidate us.”
Employers at the airport started using heavy handed tactics to discourage and intimidate many among the 1,500 passenger service workers as soon as they began educating each other and the public about conditions at the airport and began working together to try to improve their working conditions, he said. They faced not just suspensions but many of them saw their hours cut. Most Passenger service workers at the airport earn the state minimum wage, $7.79 or $4.77, if they are tipped workers.
“Many of you fellow workers and supporters live right here in Broward or nearby in Miami-Dade. Tell, how can you pay rent, put food on the table and take care of your family on $7.79 an hour, much less $4.77, especially when most passengers either cannot afford to tip, or don’t know they are supposed to tip and it is against the rules to ask for tips?” Ingram asked.
His audience howled in recognition. No more, they chanted. We are fed and we are not going to put up with this anymore.
Pastor Mari Gauthier of Pembroke Pines noted that most of the workers at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport are immigrants from Jamaica and Haiti and live in some of the poorest communities of Broward County, like Lauderdale Lakes, North Lauderdale and East Miramar.
“If airlines are doing well and our employers are doing well and we all know the airport is doing well, then these workers, members of our communities, deserve to do well, too,” Pastor Mari Gauthier said. “I am here to say that we will stand with our sisters and brothers in this fight. We won’t quit until they get justice, until they get fairness at the airport.”
Broward County Commission Martin Kiar, a long time supporter of the airport workers’ right to organizer and their fight to improve standards, also spoke in support of the workers at the rally.
“Today, I stand with airport workers in their fight for a living wage,” he said. “More money in the pockets of our workers means that they can take better care of their families and pump more money back into communities to help rebuild our economy. We need to set a higher standard for our workers and for our communities—and providing our workers with a living wage will be a win/win for both airport contractors and their employees.”
As the employers have intensified their reactions to the workers union organizing activities, the workers have been filing unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency, including against Bags Inc., G2 Secure Staff LLC, and Eulen America.
With more than 145,000 members, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service union in the country.