By Bill Parry
Nearly 300 airport workers rallied in solidarity at LaGuardia Airport Wednesday as union officials and American Airlines opened negotiations a day after a brief strike was suspended.
Several hundred baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, customer service agents, Skycaps and shuttle drivers were poised to walk off the job at LaGuardia and JFK in a labor dispute with their employer, PrimeFlight, which is subcontracted by American Airlines, United and JetBlue.
“While the strike is suspended as negotiations get underway, the airport workers are ready to go back on strike should talks fall apart,” 32BJ SEIU Vice President Rob Hill said. “Airport workers have been fighting for a living wage and a union for five years. They are willing to do whatever it takes to win, whether that means walking off the job or giving American Airlines the chance to make things right. If these talks break down, we are prepared to strike at any time.”
In December, 8,000 airport workers in New York and New Jersey won their first union contract while PrimeFlight has refused to bargain on a contract. Workers brought the issue to the National Labor Relations Board, which found the company had violated the law and was obligated to negotiate job standards with workers, but no deal has been reached.
Officials from Prime Flight and American Airlines could not be reached for comment.
“All airport workers should be treated with respect and dignity and desire a contract with fair wages, health insurance, and workplace protections,” City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said. “I’m proud to stand today and everyday with the members of SEIU 32BJ to take back our airports and end the abuse by contractors who get rich on the backs of New Yorkers. When we organize, we win.”
State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) also spoke at the LaGuardia Airport rally.
“Simply put, this is uncalled for, especially since PrimeFlight is such a successful company. Let’s provide workers with a living wage, a wage they deserve since they’re the ones that insure that we are safe and things run smoothly way before we are up 33,000 feet in the air. “
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr