Wage and Benefits Improvements for New York Airport Workers “Cannot Wait,” The Port Authority Tells Major Airlines

Bi-state Agency Tells JetBlue, United Airlines and American Airlines It Needs to Follow Delta’s Example and Take Immediate Steps to Raise Poverty Wages
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Eugenio H.Villasante 646-285-1087

NEW YORK (Jan. 29)—In a strongly worded letter, Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye today told major airlines that his agency will insist on improved wages and benefits packages for contracted passenger service workers as requirements in all leases at New York City airports.

“As I wrote before, the Port Authority is prepared to use every tool at its disposal to achieve these goals,” Foye said in a new letter, stamped with today’s date, Feb. 10, 2014. “Providing an improved wage and benefits package to the thousands of hardworking men and women that make our airport system the largest in the country is something that cannot wait. I look forward to working with all of you in bringing the Port Authority’s airports into the 21st Century.”

32BJ President Hector Figueroa praised New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Foye for their consistent and focused efforts to improve the lives of workers at New York’s airports.

“We are thankful to Gov. Cuomo for supporting the Port Authority in requiring that airlines raise workers out of poverty,” he said. “Cuomo’s leadership stands in great contrast to what we’re seeing in New Jersey with Gov. Christie insisting on standing in the way of progress.”

Because of the peculiarity of the agency—run jointly by Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey—Foye’s demands, so far, only cover 8,000 workers performing passenger service functions at John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport. Cuomo appointed Foye.

“Gov. Cuomo and Pat Foye are focused on finding solutions to these problems. It gives us hope that this process is going to end up in the right place, that this puts us on the right path,” Figueroa said.

Since the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act, a low-bid, race-to-the-bottom contracting system has seen passenger services subcontracted out to private firms like Airway Cleaners/Alstate Maintenance, PrimeFlight, AirServ and Aviation Safeguard, which hire workers for minimum wage and little to no benefits. Many of the workers often need public assistance to make ends meet.

Airlines, meanwhile, are making record profits and paying ample wage and benefit compensations to their corporate staffs.

Some 12,000 subcontracted airport service workers at Newark, JFK and LaGuardia who provide crucial services such as cabin cleaning, terminal security, baggage handling, wheelchair assistance and sky cap services struggle on or barely above minimum wage or even less for tipped workers and lack basic benefits like affordable health insurance, paid holidays or paid sick time. They work alongside Port Authority-hired workers who earn more money and have benefits.

Passenger service workers at the three airports have been organizing for more than two years to shed the yoke of poor working conditions, poverty wages and little to no benefits on the job.

The workers have been petitioning employers, airlines and terminal operators, holding rallies and demanding improved working standards that allow them to live with dignity.

On MLK Day, nearly 1,000 workers, elected officials, clergy, Figueroa and other 32BJ officials protested on a bridge leading to LaGuardia. In an act of civil disobedience, more than 30 people were arrested, including Rep. Charles Rangel, Figueroa, several City Council and state assembly members, workers and clergy members.

Foye, in his new letter, reminded JetBlue Airways Corporation Chief Executive Officer Dave Barger and his counterparts at American and United, Doug Parker and Jeff Smisek, of his Jan. 27, 2014 letter demanding they and their contractors:

  • give contracted passenger service workers at John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport who make $9 or less an immediate $1-an-hour raise with a phase-in to $10.10;
  • recognize Martin Luther King Day as paid holiday, retroactive to this year’s holiday;
  • and work toward “providing an improved wage and benefits package to the thousands of hard-working men and women” at the airports, developing a plan within 90 days.

After telling the three CEOs that Delta Air Lines last week “agreed to adopt promptly” the port’s proposals to begin improving wages for about 2,000 workers, Foye raised the development of a new, 21st Century Central Terminal Building at LaGuardia.

“As current users of CTB,” Foye wrote, “you should know that the new CTB lease provisions the developers and airlines at CTB will be required to sign will mandate those worker protection provisions not only for CTB but also for each terminal each CTB airline uses at both of the NYC airports. By taking this action, we will together treat these workers justly, reduce turnover, enhance service levels and place all airlines at the NYC Port Authority airports on a level taxiway so to speak.”

Figueroa praised Foye for putting teeth in the proposals.

“The Port Authority is using its leverage to bring about positive change. It is not only the right thing to do, it is also now a requirement for doing business in New York City. We feel everything is aligned to make a difference for New York airport workers,” he said.

With more than 145,000 members, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service union in the country.