On Wednesday, several airport workers at both John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and LaGuardia Airport will hold a strike that is described to be “the largest action airport workers have taken so far.”
The said airport workers number to more than 1,000 and they are employed by Aviation Safeguards, a subcontractor for Delta. Starting Wednesday, security officers, baggage handlers and wheelchair attendants will hold a strike at the JFK Airport, Terminal 7 Arrivals starting 10 p.m.
The said strike is organized by 32BJ, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). 32BJ has over 145,000 members with as much as 70,000 members in New York City. According to 32BJ, the said airport workers have been campaigning for about three years “for higher wages, benefits, union representation and respect on the job.”
Moreover, they said that when Aviation Safeguards’ security officers, baggage handlers and wheelchair attendants began to organize for higher wages and benefits, the said workers were illegally threatened while their rights were violated. In addition, Aviation Safeguards also reportedly stopped workers from wearing their buttons illegally and even threatened to fire the said workers for striking. These all happened after Aviation Safeguards had secured several settlement agreement with the National Labor Relations Board, according to 32BJ’s news release.
Moreover, the strike also emphasizes the low wage workers’ “fight for $15.” 32BJ said, “While the airlines have been making record profits and the Port Authority has approved billions of dollars to modernize LaGuardia airport, the airport workers who make these profits possible are struggling to survive. For Aviation Safeguards airport workers, their demands for better treatment has been met with illegal repression.”
Just a few days ago, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a unique statewide Task Force that will look into worker exploitation issues among multiple industries in New York State. The goal is to “identify and halt illegal practices.”
Governor Cuomo explained, “If there is a state that is going to take a stand against worker exploitation, it is New York. New York offers a promise that our arms and hearts are open to those who come here to work and build a better future for themselves – and we will not tolerate worker exploitation, period. It’s not a Democratic or a Republican issue – it’s what we believe, and together we’re going to make this a reality.”
To this, 32BJ President Hector Figueroa responds, “We must protect workers in all facets of the economy, especially those who may be vulnerable to exploitation. Governor Cuomo is making clear that there is no room for malpractice among employers in the state, and those who violate the law will be subject to severe consequences. With these new laws to protect nail salon workers and a new task force to investigate exploitation across other industries, New York is moving forward in defense of unprotected workers.”
Meanwhile, the strike has also gained the support of several city council members. According to Council Member Mathieu Eugene, “All hard-working employees in our city deserve to make a living wage. Our airport workers have incredibly demanding jobs and they are entitled to fair compensation. It is their right to fight for a $15 minimum wage and we should not allow them to be illegally harassed or intimidated for simply asking for a reasonable salary. It is an honor to stand with them as our city fights for a $15 minimum wage for all of our hard workers. We won’t back down until there is justice.”
Moreover, Council Member Rory I. Lancman says, “I applaud the courage of the security officers, baggage handlers and wheel chair attendants in striking to demand fair wages and decent benefits without illegal intimidation. These workers toil away behind the scenes to make our travel experience seamless, and they deserve an honest living wage for their hard work.”
Meanwhile, various airlines have said they will ensure that their passengers’ travel plans will not be disrupted throughout the strike. A Delta Air Lines spokeswoman has told the Wall Street Journal, “While Aviation Safeguards and SEIU 32BJ continue to discuss their concerns, Delta will be taking measures to ensure that our more than 35,000 customers booked through LaGuardia on Thursday are not affected. We will continue to update our customers on the latest developments.”
At the same time United has said that they have “contingency plans in place” for both affected airports. Moreover, American Airlines has said that they are not expecting disruptions.