By Bill Parry
Elected officials in western Queens are turning up the heat on Long Island City-based JetBlue for paying airport workers low wages.
On Monday, more than 100 airport workers and residents from neighborhoods surrounding LaGuardia Airport attended a town hall meeting at the Jackson Heights Jewish Center and City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) led a rally Wednesday at JetBlue’s headquarters in Long Island City.
State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) and City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) called the town hall meeting to discuss two of JetBlue’s subcontractors, Roma and Primeflight, which they say pay their workers low wages with little or no benefits.
“JetBlue has ads up all over the city that say ‘JetBlue lives NY,’ but the poverty wages that the airline allows its subcontractors to pay are causing many residents of Queens to live in poverty,” Peralta said. “New York’s hometown airline needs to be good to New Yorkers. Years ago an airport job meant a decent salary, but, unfortunately, this is not the case anymore. A lot of airport workers struggle to make ends meet, at times having to decide between paying the rent and putting food on the table. It is my hope that some of the profits the airlines make will stay with the workers and with our neighborhoods.”
Corona’s Josefa Haciano, a terminal cleaner at JetBlue’s JFK terminal, has worked for subcontractor Roma for the last eight years.
“I live in Queens and I don’t make enough to pay the rent and buy food, let alone invest time or money in my community,” he said. “This isn’t only about airport workers. The way Roma treats us affects me, my family and my whole community. JetBlue shouldn’t let that happen.”
On Wednesday, 30 airport workers and 32BJ members rallied with Van Bramer outside JetBlue’s corporate headquarters at Queens Plaza North. They complain that most airport workers live in the neighborhoods that surround LaGuardia and JFK, giving many Queens locales a concentration of poverty-stricken residents.
“My mother, father and stepfather were all union members, and because of this, they were able to have jobs with living wages and benefits to support out family,” Van Bramer said. “That’s why I’m standing with airport workers and 32BJ SEIU in their fight for better wages and working conditions.”
Van Bramer is no stranger to the plight of the airport workers. He has attended many of the rallies and marches, and was arrested for civil disobedience in 2014, when protesters closed the 94th Street Bridge approach to LaGuardia with a sit-in.
Van Bramer and some of the workers went into the headquarters with petitions demanding to see JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes. Hayes was not available so they asked for a meeting in the future.
“JetBlue made record profits last year,” Van Bramer said. “If they wish to be New York City’s Hometown Airline, they should make sure this bounty is reflected in higher wages.”
JetBlue did not comment.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr