‘Paid sick leave isn’t a luxury’: JFK Airport workers, Queens pols protest company’s forced worker leave

Courtesy of 32BJ SEIU

Several elected officials joined airport workers and union leaders on the steps of City Hall last week calling demanding justice after Eulen America employees at John F. Kennedy Airport were forced in March to use up paid sick leave that they accrued in 2018.

New York City law clearly authorizes workers to carry over up to 40 hours of unused sick time per year.

On May 9, the airport workers announced they had filed complaints with the city Department of Consumer and Worker Protection against Eulen America.

“We were badly understaffed because workers were forced to use up their paid sick leave,” JFK and Eulen Passenger Verification Agent Whitney Moore said. “Those of us working our shifts had to do everything, whether it’s in our job description or not. For instance, we did not have enough workers to push the wheelchairs so managers, on a daily basis, asked my co-workers to push two wheelchairs at the same time because we were severely shorthanded. It ended up being a disservice to passengers and workers alike.”

Councilman Francisco Moya stood with the airport workers saying denying their lawful right to sick pay is petty, cheap and shameful.

“Everyone gets sick. Providing paid sick leave isn’t a luxury; it’s simply acknowledging reality and responding humanely,” Moya said. “It’s curious how wealth never trickles down to the working class but hardship always seems to when it comes to corporations like Eulen America and their profits. I stand in solidarity with the Eulen America workers at JFK and for treating people with dignity and decency.”

Eulen America said these are accusations by a union which is putting politics before the facts in an effort to drum up support.

“We take our full compliance with New York City Worker Protection & Workplace Laws and all other applicable regulations and laws very seriously,” Eulen America CEO Xavier Rabell said. “SEIU’s allegations that workers must use or lose paid sick leave are simply false. The facts are clear, Eulen America has a generous and well documented Paid Time Off/Sick Leave policy for out JFK employees which allows 40 hours, the maximum permissible amount, of unused PTO to be carried over for use through March 31 of the following year.”

The union’s allegations have been noticed on Capitol Hill.

“Paid sick leave is critical to hard-working New Yorkers,” Congresswoman Grace Meng said. “The allegations raised by JFK workers are serious and I stand with them and 32BJ in their fight to protect paid sick leave. It allows members of our workforce to earn important time off so they can take time off when they are sick or need to care about a loved one. Any attempt to shortchange working men and women out of this critical benefit is unacceptable. I will continue to watch the situation closely.”

New York City’s Earned Safe and Sick Time Act gives covered workers the right to carry over to the next calendar year up to 40 hours of unused sick leave. Workers accrue one hour for every 30 hours worked but, because most workers are part-time who struggle to get 30 hours in a given week, it takes a long time for workers to accrue paid sick leave time.

“Now, as I understand it, the law is supposed to make it easier for workers like me to take sick leave when we need it, not when it’s convenient for our employer to have us use the time,” JFK and Euelen Baggage Handler Levelle Lindsey said. “The consequences, beyond the immediate chaos it created for passengers at the airport and in our lives, is that we no longer have the accrued time that we carried over from last year to use when, God forbid, we should need it. We have to wait to accrue more paid sick leave time or go unpaid if we needed time to care for ourselves or family members.”

The city law also allows covered workers to take paid sick leave to seek legal and social services assistance or take other safety measures if the employee or a family member may be the victim of any act of domestic violence or unwanted sexual contact, stalking, or human trafficking.

“Eulen America undermined the very purpose of sick leave by allegedly forcing workers to spend it at the contractor’s discretion, rather than when those workers actually needed it,” Congressman Gregory Meeks said. “Thankfully there are laws to protect against this type of workplace abuse, and I stand with 32BJ in ensuring that these workers’ claims are heard fairly and violations are met with justice.”

More from Around New York