Attorney general recovers $590,000 in minimum wage violations for airline workers at JFK

Airport workers at JFK will be compensated for minimum wage violations in an agreement announced by Attorney General Letitia James. (QNS file photo)

Airport workers at JFK have been locked in a yearslong battle with an international ground services corporation over its alleged unfair labor practices.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced an agreement with airline service company Eulen America for failing to reimburse employees more than half a million dollars for the laundering costs of their required uniforms that was unlawfully deducted from their paychecks.

Under the agreement, Eulen — which provides passenger services at JFK Airport and a subcontractor to American Airlines — will deliver $590,000 to approximately 1,500 workers who were forced to pay for laundry costs out of their minimum wage paychecks. New York Labor Law requires employers to reimburse minimum wage workers who are required to wear uniforms for laundering costs at a fixed rate per week.

Eulen’s failure to follow the law led to consistent minimum wage violations from 2014 to 2020.

The attorney general launched her probe into Eulen in November of 2019. The investigation revealed that between Feb. 21, 2014, and May 11, 2020, Eulen failed to reimburse its workers for their uniform maintenance/laundry, resulting in illegal deductions of these costs from employees’ paychecks.

The law requires companies to pay for laundry costs as part of the minimum wage and any legally required overtime rate for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek. In addition to the unpaid laundry reimbursements, Eulen was found to have failed to pay the minimum wage established by the Port Authority during the week of Sept. 14, 2015.

“The dedicated and hardworking workers at airports across the tri-state area deserve to be compensated fairly for their labor and reimbursed for what the law clearly lays out,” James said. “For nearly six years, Eulen failed its workers by illegally and consistently refusing to reimburse them or uniform laundering, forcing workers to pay laundry costs out of their minimum wage paychecks. But today, we’re delivering nearly $600,000 in stolen wages back into the pockets of these workers, especially crucial as New Yorkers continue to suffer the economic effects of COVID-19.”

Based on these failures, James concluded that Eulen engaged in persistent and repeated violations of New York state labor laws. Eulen has agreed to adhere to all federal, state and local labor laws going forward and may face legal action if they fail to comply.

The $590,000 in monetary restoration will be distributed to workers who should have been reimbursed for laundering their uniforms. Along with monetary restitution, Eulen has also agreed to additional terms to ensure pay equity moving forward, including the following:

  • Compliance with all labor laws;
  • The posting of notices with information on employee rights, wage and hour laws, and the right to not fear retaliation for speaking out about labor issues;
  • Compliance with all record-keeping requirements laid out in New York Labor Laws;
  • The maintenance of all employment documents, documents related to employment practices, and records on employee complaints for six years; and
  • The implementation of an independent third-party administrator to identify and contact eligible workers and prepare and distribute payments, as well as to provide the Office of the Attorney General with a written plan for this disbursement process.

QNS reached out to Eulen America and is awaiting a response.

“My office is fully committed to ensuring all workers in the state are justly compensated for their labor,” James said. “And we stand ready to hold accountable those who commit minimum wage violations in New York.”

SEIU 32BJ, which has led the fight against unfair labor practices against airport workers for years, applauded the agreement.

“We are grateful to the attorney general’s office and their commitment to protecting the working people of New York,” said Rob Hill, 32BJ Vice President and Director of Airport Divisions. “Since the onset of this investigation, Eulen America has, in many ways, proven itself as an exemplary employer and a responsible contractor. We applaud their lasting emphasis on doing right by their workers.”