Public Increasingly Calls on Congress to Support Working People, not Multi-Billion Dollar Corporations
NEW YORK and NEWARK, N.J.— Contracted skycaps, wheelchair agents, cabin cleaners, and baggage handlers from the nation’s busiest airport system— John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport— received layoff notices due to flight reductions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Working people and elected officials are outraged that thousands of front-line contracted airport workers are being laid off while the airlines lobby for a nearly $60-billion taxpayer bailout. The airline bailout request came with assurances that they would “preserve and protect” jobs, but thousands of contracted airport workers are facing layoffs with many more expected.
Luerica Fiffee, a passenger service representative at the John F. Kennedy International, was laid off on Thursday.
“If they are bailing out the airlines, they have to be bailing out the workers,” Fiffee said. “How am I going to manage? That, I’m not quite sure of yet. Literally no one is hiring. There’s nothing you can do except hope and pray that something gets better.”
The airline industry lobbying group, Airlines for America, funded by United, American, Delta, and Southwest Airlines, has said they want to “secure financial assistance from the federal government to protect and preserve the 750,000 jobs of hardworking men and women who are directly employed by U.S. airlines, as well the 10 million jobs supported by the airline industry,” yet they are leaving out 30% of the workforce that makes global air travel possible: contracted airport workers.
32BJ SEIU President Kyle Bragg said the request for $60 billion in bailout money by airlines to Congress and the President of the United States shows the airlines industry again just looking out for itself at the expense of the workers who do the work on the ground airports around the nation.
“We cannot just do the same old trick of opening up the bailout spigot to reward wealthy airline corporations while leaving the most vulnerable workers out in the cold,” Bragg said. “These workers earn the least yet risk themselves the most. Many lack healthcare to even care for themselves in the face of this pandemic.”
“During this global pandemic, these workers have stepped forward to do their jobs. We are demanding the airlines and Congress not forget the most vulnerable workers as they seek a bailout.”
32BJ, a union with 175,000 in 11 states and Washington, D.C., represents 10,000 airport service workers in New York and New Jersey.
The legislation President Trump signed that grants paid sick leave to workers does not apply to this workforce because they are employed by companies with 500 or more employees—and those companies are exempt. Contracted airport workers are calling on Congress to support paid sick days, affordable health care, and essential layoff protections for tens of thousands of airport workers who keep our airports running every day.
Elected officials from New York and New Jersey demand that Congress prioritize the health, safety and economic security of the contracted airport workers in any airline industry bailout legislation.
“These workers should not be penalized by this public health and economic crisis,” New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said. “They do some of the hardest jobs at the airport and receive the lowest wages and often don’t have access to affordable healthcare or paid time off. We demand that no airline receive any federal assistance without making assurances that all workers are bailed out, too.”
“These workers perform a crucial service at airports for low pay and often zero benefits. I have stood with them before in their fight for better wages, and I stand with them now as they are being pushed out in this devastating public health crisis. No bailouts for airlines unless they include protections for this invisible workforce,” said New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.
“It’s the hard labor of sub-contracted airport workers that has enabled airlines to generate the immense profits they have in recent years,” said New York State Senator Michael Gianaris. “We cannot bail them out without supporting those who have made them so profitable, who have been putting their lives on the line every time they go to work.”
“In the face of this pandemic, we should be sharing sacrifices, not cutting the ground out from hard-working New Yorkers,” New York City Councilmember Francisco Moya said. “These airlines take the labor of members of our communities, which they grudgingly compensate, then insist they are the only ones affected by this pandemic.”
“We should flip the script that says corporations deserve to be showered with money while workers are stranded in the face of challenges,” New York City Councilmember Donovan Richards said. “Who needs relief more, hard-working New Yorkers who live paycheck to paycheck yet sacrifice the most, or profitable corporations that pays them as little as they could get away with? New Yorkers need relief. Members of our communities need relief.”
“We cannot let the airlines toss these vital workers aside,” said New Jersey State Senator Joe Cryan. “The airline industry has pulled in record profits in recent years, keeping wages and benefits down for these airport workers and actively fighting against their efforts to win living wages, sick days, and health care—all the things that would blunt the effects of this pandemic on this workforce and their families. If the airlines can get help, so should these workers.”
“Our state is supportive of airlines and the vital economic function of the airport to our state,” said New Jersey Assemblywoman and Majority Conference Leader Annette Quijano. “At the same time we expect the airlines to act responsibly, and to ensure that subcontracted airport workers are protected in any economic stimulus package that they receive. It is not too late for Congress to make sure workers are protected, not too late for airlines to do the right thing.”
“It is unconscionable that the people sacrifice the most to make air travel possible, these ambassadors for our state, are now being abandoned,” New Jersey Assemblyman Dan Benson said. “These are profitable corporations are asking to be made whole in the face of this calamity while our communities are suffering.”
“These layoffs will be another blow in a pandemic that is devastating our communities in more ways than we can count,” Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said. “Let’s face it, the airlines, while they did not cause the pandemic, by choosing to do layoffs in this manner, are piling misery on us and our community members. The money they are seeking for relief must be used immediately to support these workers in their jobs.”
Over 50 New York state and city elected officials signed a letter of support for contract airport workers.
Layoffs are expected to increase for the rest of the month. On Thursday, at least 600 contracted service workers received layoff notices at Philadelphia International Airport.
Over the years, airlines have perfected a system of low-bid contracting to boost their bottom line and squeeze every penny out of workers, taxpayers, and passengers in the form of new tax-exempt fees. Airlines increased outsourced jobs from 19% in 2001 to 30% in 2018 which resulted in some outsourced workers being paid less for doing the same job. For baggage handlers, airlines eliminated or outsourced over 96% of jobs and cut wages in half—from $27.18 in 2002 to $12.79 in inflation-adjusted dollars.
With more than 175,000 members in 11 states and Washington, D.C., 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.