New York (Feb. 12th, 2015) –About 100 contracted baggage handlers at JFK Airport launched a strike early this morning over the unfair labor practices of their employer Aviation Safeguards, a subcontractor at the airport.
Over the last two years, Aviation Safeguards baggage handlers have filed various lawsuits and complaints about unfair labor practices, health and safety violations and wage theft. They have been fighting along with 12,000 other subcontracted airport workers in New York and New Jersey for higher wages, benefits and the right to union representation. They were among the 88% of airport workers at JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports who reported at least one form of wage theft in the last year and Aviation Safeguards baggage handlers have recently been outspoken about Aviation Safeguards not providing cold-weather gear or heat in their workspaces during the frigid winter months. The majority of contracted out airport workers also report experiencing financial hardship due to the low wages and benefits they make at the airports and the majority are forced to rely on government subsidies to survive.
“I am proud to stand with the Aviation Safeguards employees who are organizing and fighting for wages and benefits that can support their families,” said NY Comptroller Scott Stringer. As the destination for millions of tourists who support our City’s economy and the modern gateway to America for those who come to our shores in search of a better life, our airports should represent the best of what this City has to offer: fairness and opportunity for all.”
On top of all these issues, when Aviation Safeguards baggage handlers fought to better their lives they began to face intimidation from their employer, Aviation Safeguards. After this group of baggage handlers began to be more active in calling for the changes they need on the job, they received a threatening letter from the Aviation Safeguards’ Human Resources Department. The letter said that employees who engage in strikes “are not protected. This means participating employees may be disciplined or even fired.” The Regional Director of the National Labor Relations Board has found probable cause that the contractor made an illegal disciplinary threat.
“I have dealt with so much disrespect on the job and I am striking today because, after that letter, I am just fed up,” said Santo Bonanno, an Aviation Safeguards baggage handler at JFK. “We already make poverty wages and do backbreaking work. I can’t even afford to move out of my mother’s house and when I come to work they threaten me for fighting for a better life. It’s ridiculous.”
Nearly 100 Aviation Safeguards baggage handlers also said enough is enough and decided to go on strike as well.
“Illegal unfair labor practices like the threatening letter sent to Aviation Safeguards baggage handlers spread fear and misunderstanding among airport workers already struggling to survive on poverty wages,” said Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ. ” It’s clear airline subcontractors like Aviation Safeguards need more oversight.”
More than 100 airport workers, clergy, community members and elected officials supported striking Aviation Safeguards baggage handlers at a rally near their picket line today.
NY State Senator Jose Peralta, State Senator James Sanders Jr., and NY Comptroller Scott Stringer came out and spoke words of support and encouragement to the group.
“It is my honor to join those protesting today, as they exercise their right to union participation and take peaceful action to build a better workplace,” said Senator Jose Peralta. “The dreams of all workers for an improved quality of life gained through higher wages and better benefits must become a reality. Today’s efforts are a large step toward bringing about exactly these changes.”
With more than 145,000 members, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service union in the country