QUEENS, NEW YORK (June 26, 2014) – Hundreds of fired-up airport workers – chanting “Contract Now” and waving signs and banners — held an emotional rally on the grounds of La Guardia Airport today to kick off a 100-day campaign to win fair pay, benefits, a good union contract and economic justice.
The workers, joined by elected officials, 32BJ SEIU President Hector Figueroa, clergy, advocates and community supporters, urged major airlines and their sub-contractors to comply with the mandate from Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye to immediately raise wages and develop a comprehensive, long-term plan for good benefits and fair treatment of the 12,000 contracted workers at La Guardia, JFK and Newark airports.
“We are here to tell the wealthy airline companies and their poverty-wage contractors that it is long past time for them to start paying you a fair wage, with benefits and a pathway to the middle class,” Figueroa told the cheering workers. “You work hard and you deserve a good union contract and the right to make the same wages and benefits as the people who work directly for the Port. Same work, same pay!”
The rally marked the official start of the 100 days of Action, in which the workers will lobby foot-dragging contractors and bring their struggle directly to the airlines. The countdown is to Sept. 30, 2014 – the deadline for the Port Authority’s plan for enhanced wages and benefits, including health care.
Among those on hand supporting the workers were: U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, Senators Toby Ann Stavisky and Martin Dilan, Hazel Dukes, president of the New York State Conference of the NAACP, Rev. Willie D. Francois III, of First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem.
“I am here today and I will be here until we win,” Congressman Rangel said. “The middle class is being squeezed out. People can’t afford to pay their rent or tuition for their children. We cannot afford to have workers pushed into poverty after working hard all day.”
Workers are calling on the contractors and airlines to move immediately to comply with the Port Authority’s mandate and are simply asking for the same set of conditions those directly contracted with the Port enjoy: a family-sustaining wage, health care, paid sick days and a voice in the workplace. Last month, thousands of airport workers voted overwhelmingly to designate 32BJ SEIU as their union and to negotiate on their behalf.
“September 30th is the deadline for the Port Authority’s plan for enhanced wages and benefits, including health care – and we are serving notice on the contractors and airline that they must comply with the Port Authority’s mandate,” said Nelly Escobar, a cabin cleaner at JFK. “We work long, hard hours and can barely feed ourselves and our families. That’s not right.”
Gian Lopez, a baggage handler at LaGuardia, said it is a struggle to make ends meet on poverty wages, and added that the actions will continue until the Port Authority compels the airlines to meet Foye’s new regulations.
“This is not the last time you will see us,” Lopez said. “We need a union contract to give us fair treatment and a strong voice.”
“Fair pay, good benefits and workplace justice are civil rights issues,” said Hazel Dukes, president of the New York State Conference of the NAACP. “Forty six years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King said it was ‘criminal’ that people received part-time pay for full-time work. It is still criminal today.
“Our airports are gateways. For seven days a week, 24 hours a day, people from throughout the world come into New York City, to do business, visit and return home,” said Senator Martin Malavé Dilan. “It’s a vital economic engine for our city and state, and, at the heart of which, unfortunately, is a grossly underpaid workforce. As we look to modernize our airport infrastructure and improve services, we must recognize that any airport is only as good as its support staff. It’s time their wage reflect their hard work and dedication.”
State Sen. Stavisky said: “I am proud to stand here today with thousands of airport workers and 32BJ SEIU to demand a contract that compensates workers fairly and humanely. It is unconscionable that the workers in the airports that serve the greatest city in the world are not given healthcare, time off, or in some cases, even the minimum wage. It’s time these workers are given the dignity of a fair contract.”
Council Member Julissa Ferreras, Chair of the Committee on Finance sent a statement of support.
“As the representative of the 21st Council District in Queens, which includes LaGuardia Airport, I am proud to stand in solidarity with 32BJ and the hundreds of airport workers who are demanding a fair contract,” Ferreras said. “Our middle class workers are at the heart of our city’s economy, and these workers should not have to struggle for justice, respect and a voice in their workplaces. The time is now for a contract that respects and the hard work of all airport workers.”
With more than 145,000 members, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service union in the country.