NEW YORK—Hundreds of contracted area airports workers descended on the headquarters of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey yesterday with a list of demands and a deadline by which they want the port to address their complaints about being paid poverty wages without meaningful or affordable health care benefits, paid sick days and holidays.
Prince Jackson, a security officer at JFK Airport for a contractor named AirServ, presented Port Authority Executive Patrick Foye with stacks of petitions signed by more than 2,00o workers from the John F. Kennedy, Newark Liberty International and LaGuardia airports.
Foye came down, met and shook hands with the delegation of workers in the lobby, including Sawpna Begum, a security officer with Aviation Safeguard at LaGuardia, Derick Swaby, a cabin cleaner with PrimeFlight at Newark Liberty International Airport, and Shareeka Elliott, a terminal cleaner for contractor Airway Cleaners at JFK.
Jackson told Foye that workers want his agency to show it will take their concerns seriously. A key step toward the improvements workers seek, he said, is for the Port Authority to make Martin Luther King Day in 2014, which is Jan. 20, a paid holiday for all airport workers.
The workers, who are mostly people of color, said they picked MLK Day 2014 because of its symbolism.
“Many of us are children of pioneers who fought for Civil Rights, who changed America,” Jackson told about 300 people gathered outside the Port Authority building on Park Avenue South, two thirds of whom were airport workers. “They fought for a better life for us, not this, not poverty wages with little or no benefits.”
Telling him he’s speaking truths, the audience in a cordoned off area of Park Ave., in front of the Port Authority offices, urged him on.
“Dr. King died supporting Memphis sanitation workers who were working under deplorable conditions and making what today would be $11.41 per hour. 46 years after Dr. King’s death, I earn $8 an hour. Most airport workers earn just $8 per hour. We also work under deplorable conditions. We are here to say Our Issues must be addressed, starting with Martin Luther King Day 2014,” Jackson added.
Poor working conditions are creating a crisis at the airports for workers and passengers alike, the workers say. The crisis, they say, is caused by low-bid subcontracting by airlines and terminal operators of security, cleaning and other functions at John F. Kennedy, Newark Liberty International and LaGuardia airports to private contractors who pay poverty wages—significantly less than those directly employed by the airlines and the Port Authority.
“We’ve been struggling for over a year to get these contractors to do the right thing, but we’ve gotten nowhere,” Shareeka Elliott, a terminal cleaner for Airway Cleaners at JFK, said. “The Port Authority has the power to make things better for all of us. Today we’re asking the Port to act quickly and take a first step in the right direction and give us MLK day as a paid holiday.”
Passenger service workers employed by private contractors like Airway Cleaners/Alstate Maintenance, PrimeFlight, AirServ and Aviation Safeguard say they want the Port Authority to show it will address their larger concerns about poverty wages and inadequate to non-existent benefits by giving them MLK Day 2014 as paid Holiday.
As they stood in the ornate, marbled lobby of the Park Avenue office building, Jackson asked Foye if he recalled the earlier delegation almost a year ago when workers gave him first-hand accounts of what they were coping with working for contractors at the Port Authority-run facilities.
“Of course, I remember,” Foye replied.
“Well, there’s been no progress,” Jackson told Foye as he handed over stacks of petitions. “Things are still pretty horrible at the airports. We feel the Port Authority should step in and impose the standards that will improve lives for airport workers.”