By Bill Parry
Nearly 100 contracted baggage handlers at JFK Airport staged a 24-hour strike last week over what they contend are unfair labor practices by their employer, Aviation Safeguards, a subcontractor at the airport. The workers said they have filed various lawsuits and complaints about unfair labor practices, health and safety violations and wage theft against the company, which denies their claims.
The job action joins the efforts of more than 8,000 airport workers at JFK and LaGuardia who have marched and rallied for higher wages, benefits and the right to union representation during the past year.
“I am proud to stand with the Aviation Safeguards employees who are organizing and fighting for wages and benefits that can support their families,” city Comptroller Scott Stringer said. “As the destination for millions of tourists who support our city’s economy and the modern gateway to America for those who come to our shores in search of a better life, our airports should represent the best of what this city has to offer: fairness and opportunity for all.”
The baggage handlers also claim to have received a threatening letter from Aviation Safeguards warning that workers who engage in strikes “are not protected. This means participating employees may be disciplined or even fired.”
“Illegal unfair labor practices like the threatening letter sent to Aviation Safeguards baggage handlers spread fear and misunderstanding among airport workers already struggling to survive on poverty wages,” Service Employees International Union 32BJ President Hector Figueroa said. “It’s clear airline subcontractors like Aviation Safeguards need more oversight.”
Craig Coy, the CEO of Command Security, a New York based security service provider that owns Aviation Safeguards, said his company is being unfairly maligned.
“These charges are not true,” he said. “We are consistently pro-employee with a large population of dedicated employees at JFK and other locations. We support them in every way possible.” Coy added that there was no baggage or flight disruption caused by the job action.
Fellow workers, clergy, community members and several elected officials supported the strikers during the Feb. 12 morning rally.
“It is my honor to join those protesting today, as they exercise their right to union participation and take peaceful action to build a better workplace,” state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) said. “The dreams of all workers for an improved quality of life gained through higher wages and better benefits must become a reality. Today’s efforts are a large step toward bringing about exactly these changes.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 260–4538.