Donning purple t-shirts that read “Airport Workers Rising,” hundreds of workers and their supporters rallied at LaGuardia Airport last Wednesday afternoon. Union officials planned a series of events to apply pressure to American Airlines and their contractor PrimeFlight.
“Airport workers have been fighting for a living wage and a union for nearly five years,” said Rob Hill, vice president of 32BJ SEIU. “They are willing to do whatever it takes to win. If these talks break down, we are prepared to strike at any time.”
Last Tuesday night, hundreds of workers walked off the job at Newark Liberty International Airport. According to 32BJ, they went back to work the next day as the parties began bargaining.
Strikes involving 2,000 workers are still looming at Newark, LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy and Philadelphia International airports, Hill said.
According to the service workers union, which represents wheelchair attendants, skycaps, baggage handlers, customer service agents, cabin cleaners, terminal cleaners and shuttle drivers, the airport workers have been fighting for union representation for the past four years.
Last December, 8,000 workers in New York and New Jersey won their first union contract, but workers for subcontractor PrimeFlight were not part of the change. Union officials charged that PrimeFlight has refused to bargain a contract.
In New York, workers brought the issue to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which found that the company violated the law and was legally obligated to negotiate job standards, according to 32BJ.
Union officials also accused PrimeFlight of illegally threatening and attempting to intimidate workers on the bargaining team.
Dozens of elected officials spoke at last Wednesday’s rally, promising to stand by airport workers during the negotiations and possible strike.
“The values we have in this city and what we demand of corporations that do business in this city is to provide dignity and respect to our workers,” said council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “We will not stand for anything less than that.”
The speaker tied the rally to ongoing defiance and resistance to the Trump administration.
“We’re living this surreal moment in time, where this orange man in the White House is taking us and leading us into the gutter,” Mark-Viverito said. “They will not wear us down.”
State Senator Michael Gianaris said workers are being taken advantage of by people who “make all the money” while not giving enough to their employees.
“These companies thrive and succeed because of the work you do more than the decisions they make in their penthouses and their yachts,” he said. “The people that are rolling up their sleeves, the people who are out here sweating in the hot sun today, are the reason that the very rich are very rich.
“I’ve got no problem with people making money,” Gianaris added. “But we should all make money, especially those that are responsible for the profit.”
Loise Joseph, a customer service representative for PrimeFlight, said she’s been on the job for more than a year at LaGuardia Airport. She felt her job was going fine until workers decided to sign up to join a union.
“I didn’t think it was going to be a fight, I thought they’d want to do the right thing,” she said. “We want the union, we have the right to the union. There’s no reason we shouldn’t get it.”
Joseph said she noticed a lot of unfairness and favoritism at her workplace. She’s seen managers talk down to employees and supervisors.
“One mistake and you get fired,” she said. “In a day, they can make your life miserable.”
When asked how long she would be willing to strike, she said, “as long as it takes.”
“We just want our voice to be heard,” Joseph said. “We want them to know that we’re people too. We want a better working environment, better wages, better benefits for us and our families.”