Airport workers rally for better wages

By Bill Parry

Several hundred airport workers rallied for fair wages and benefits at LaGuardia Airport Monday.

Chanting “Contract now” and waiving banners and signs, the workers kicked off a 100-day campaign to keep the pressure on the airlines for a good union contract and economic justice.

The workers were joined by elected officials, clergy and union officials all urging the major airlines and their subcontractors to comply with a mandate from Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foy to give workers who were making less than $9 per hour an immediate $1 raise with a phase-in to $10.10.

American and Delta airlines have complied and have begun paying their workers the new rate, but United and JetBlue have refused.

“We are here to tell the wealthy airline companies and their poverty-wage contractors that it is long past time for them to start paying you a fair wage with benefits and a pathway to the middle class,” 32BJ SEIU President Hector Figueroa told the crowd. “You work hard and you deserve a good union contract and the right to make the same wages and benefits as the people who work directly for the port. Same work, same pay!”

The rally marked the official start of the 100 Days of Action, a countdown to Sept. 30, the deadline for the Port Authority’s plan for enhanced wages and benefits, including healthcare.

U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Manhattan) spoke at the rally fresh off his Democratic primary victory over Adriano Espaillat Wednesday night.

“I am here today and I will be here until we win,” the 84-year-old congressman said. “The middle class is being squeezed out. People can’t afford to pay their rent or tuition for their children. We cannot afford to have the workers pushed into poverty after working hard all day.”

Nelly Escobar, a cabin cleaner at John F. Kennedy international Airport, said, “Sept. 30 is the deadline and we are serving notice on the contractors and airline that they must comply with the Port Authority’s mandate. We work long, hard hours and can barely feed ourselves and our families. That’s not right.”

Last month, thousands of airport workers voted to designate 32BJ SEIU as their union and to negotiate on their behalf.

“This is not the last time you will see us,” LaGuardia Airport baggage handler Gian Lopez said. “We need a union contract to give us fair treatment and a strong voice.”

Among the leaders who spoke at the rally were Hazel Dukes, president of the New York Conference of the NAACP, who said, “Fair pay, good benefits and workplace justice are civil rights issues. Forty-six years ago Dr. Martin Luther King said it was criminal that people received part-time pay for full-time work. It is still criminal today.”

On Friday a dozen of the workers met with Timothy Cardinal Dolan and Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio for a half hour in the midtown offices of the Archdiocese of New York. Michael Carey, a security guard at JFK, said, “I still can’t believe it. Six months ago, I never dreamed we would achieve such great successes this year.”

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

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