PA boss fires new warning at boro carriers

PA boss fires new warning at boro carriers
Photo by Ellis Kaplan
By Bill Parry

The Port Authority has raised the stakes in its battle with the airlines for fairer pay for airport workers.

PA Executive Director Patrick Foye sent a letter to the heads of JetBlue, United and American airlines threatening to exclude the air carriers from the 21st Century Terminal Building that will be built at LaGuardia Airport unless they agree to hike the pay for thousands of low-wage contract workers.

Foye, a political appointee of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, had sent a letter to four airlines in January that demanded a $1 raise per hour for workers making $9 an hour or less and eventually hiking wages to $10.10 per hour. Only Delta Airlines agreed to the increase.

“The Port Authority is prepared to use every tool at its disposal to achieve these goals,” Foye’s letter warned. “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.”

JetBlue, United and American circled the wagons and had a trade association, Airline for America, answer for them.

“No company — in any industry — dictates to its vendors what their employees should be paid. The Legislature, not the Port Authority, is the appropriate vehicle through which to make changes to minimum wage, which would appropriately affect all workers rather than just those from one industry, Airline for America spokeswoman Katie Connell said.

“Airlines negotiate individually with their contractors to obtain services. It would raise antitrust law concerns for the airlines to share with each other the details of their agreement or to discuss their plans regarding the terms of their agreement with contractors,” Connell said.

Foye closed his letter, saying, “I look forward to working with all of you in bringing the Port Authority’s airports into the 21st century.”

Watching all this unfold is Hector Figueroa, president of Local 32BJ/SEIU. It was his union’s rally and protest march against poor working conditions and unfair wages that drew more than1,000 cleaners, Sky Caps and security personnel to LaGuardia on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

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

The union’s protest ended with the arrests of 32 union leaders, clergy and elected officials after civil disobedience closed the 94th Street Bridge approach to LaGuardia Airport.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer was among those arrested that afternoon.

“There’s been tremendous progress. It’s a movement now. I’m proud I participated, but it was the workers that deserve credit. They organized and demanded their rights to a fair wage,” Van Bramer said.

In the aftermath, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the Port Authority to examine what could be done to hike the airport workers’ pay at LaGuardia and Kennedy.

Newark Airport is part of the Port Authority but not under Foye’s jurisdiction. Newark is overseen by the deputy executive director, Deborah Gramiccioni, who was appointed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

“We are thankful to Gov. Cuomo for supporting the Port Authority in requiring that airlines raise workers out of poverty,” Figueroa 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.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.