Strike averted at JFK, LaGuardia as airport workers ratify new contract

Airport workers rallied at JFK and LaGuardia airports demanding improvements on health and safety regulations and discrimination protections in their new contract. (Photo Courtesy 32BJ)

After negotiations that lasted over three months, a committee representing more than 10,000 mostly Black and immigrant airport workers across JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports overwhelmingly ratified a new three-year contract that averted a strike.

As passenger levels continue to rise, the contract is set to provide the contracted airport workers with guidelines on the implementation of the Healthy Terminals Act (HTA), which will provide healthcare to frontline airport workers, in addition to improved health and safety guidelines and increased protections against discriminations on the job.

“This contract not only addresses our current needs, but also sets us up for a future where we can avoid many of the devastations we faced during the pandemic,” Venice Russell, said a cabin cleaner at JFK and a member of the bargaining committee. “For airport workers, healthcare justice is a racial justice issue. As we continue to keep the airports running, having healthcare, discrimination protections and the affirmation that essential workers are valued is going to allow us to move forward, rebuild and lift up our families and communities during this recovery and beyond.”

Airport workers represented by 32BJ SEIU include contracted passenger service representatives, cabin and terminal cleaners, baggage handlers, security officers, wheelchair attendants and skycaps, working for 23 airline contractors. The contract also includes extension of recall rights for workers laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Throughout the negotiations, the airport workers garnered support from state and local elected officials including Healthy Terminals Act sponsors state Senator Alessandra Biaggi and Assembly member Alicia Hyndman,” Queens Borough President Donovan Richards said. “I want to congratulate 32BJ and our airport workers on the ratification of a new contract implementing the HTA. Airport employees have risked their lives to keep our airports safe and our economy strong during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is so important that the new contract contains provisions protecting these vital workers’ health.”

On July 1, healthcare coverage through the HTA kicked off at JFK and LaGuardia airports for more than 2,000 workers, who have worked through the pandemic. The historic, statewide legislation — the first of its kind in the nation — provides a benefit supplement that can provide meaningful and sustainable healthcare benefits with no monthly co-premium for airport workers.

Labor management committees will also now meet quarterly and have greater access to information to ensure compliance with health and safety guidance, including CDC, Department of Health and OSHA regulations, as well as review policies pertaining to PPE, social distancing, contact tracing and other procedures.

The contract includes protections against discrimination based on natural hair or hairstyles closely associated with racial, ethnic or cultural identities such as braids, dreadlocks or afros. The bargaining committee also preserved Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a paid holiday, widely regarded as a major victory in airport workers’ fight for racial justice.

“Our bargaining committee worked tirelessly to achieve this strong new contract, and we are happy to see that the hard work paid off,” 32BJ SEIU President Kyle Bragg said. “Airport workers play a key role in our post-pandemic recovery. After a year that was defined by calls for racial justice and the safety of our essential workers, this contract will propel our airports to a recovery that puts working people first.”