Report: Wage Theft Epidemic At New York Area Airports

Report: Wage Theft Epidemic At New York Area Airports

There have been recent reports of wage theft and wage and hour violation in various service industries. A new 32BJ report, “Grounded Before Takeoff,” has found that wage theft at New York area airports is just as bad, or worse.

The survey, conducted by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research for 32BJ found that 88% of subcontracted airport workers report at least one violation of wage and hour laws by their employer. 69% report multiple violations within the last year.

“When I heard from people that I was entitled to extra money in my paycheck but that [my company] never gave it to me, I felt pretty horrible,” said Gian Lopez in the new report. Lopez works as a baggage handler for Aviation SafeGuards at LaGuardia and has  experienced four types of wage and hour violations in the three years he has worked for the company. “All that extra money, even if it’s just a few dollars a week could have been saved to buy my daughter essential items such as diapers.”

There are more than 12,000 airline subcontracted service workers at JFK, LaGuardia and Newark Airports. While contractors pay these low wage workers well below the federal poverty line they are also cheating them out of some of the wages they have legally earned. The vast majority of these low wage workers report being the victim of wage theft and other violations of wage and hour laws.

“Airlines and the companies that operate our airports should make certain that the contractors they hire act responsibly. Together, we can send a strong message to anyone that would take advantage of low-wage workers: we won’t stand for it,” said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on September 24, announcing a wage theft settlement with a JFK contractor for nearly $1 million.

Within the past few years, workers at LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy International, and Newark Liberty International Airports have filed various lawsuits over wage and hour violations. Most recently, in October a U.S. District court in New York approved a $605,000 settlement with Primeflight Aviation Services for wage and hour violations including failing to pay the minimum wage, failing to pay overtime compensation, and failing to pay a uniform maintenance fee.

“You can imagine how desperate we get per week. It’s hard to save money for food. It’s been hard to pay for transportation just to get to work and on top of us they have been keeping the money we do earn from us,” said Norman Echevarri, a Primeflight Wheelchair attendant at LaGuardia who was part of the settlement. “We need justice.”

The effects of both low wages and wage theft can be seen in the new report as well. 69% report earning $9.50 or less per hour, which puts them below the poverty line for New York City. “Grounded Before Takeoff” also reports that 60% of workers report experiencing some form of financial hardship while working at the airport. 50% are on public assistance and 20% report that they skipped a meal within the past week because of financial reasons.

While airlines are raking in record profits, they are using a low-road, lowest-bid outsourcing model, which has created a low-wage, high-turnover workforce, who receive little to no training and inadequate equipment.

“For low wage workers already struggling to make ends meet, the rampant wage and hour violations at the airports are a second blow to the hard working skycaps, wheelchair attendants, baggage handlers, and other workers who keep our airports running every day,” said Hector Figueroa, President of 32BJ SEIU. “These violations are not only illegal but they expose the broader malfunction of the subcontracting system at the airports.”

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