Airport workers rally at JFK for better wages and benefits, improved working conditions

Members of 32BJ SIEU kick off a new campaign for better wages and benefits with a rally at JFK’s Terminal 8 on Thursday.
Photos by Lloyd Mitchell

Hundreds of airport service workers braved the cold on Thursday and rallied outside JFK’s Terminal 8 as 32BJ SEIU launched New York’s “First and Last” campaign to demand improved wages and fair labor standards from private sector employers.

Joined by 32BJ SEIU Executive Vice President and Political Director Candis Tall, airport workers demanded paid time off, employer-paid healthcare, and higher wages for more than 40,000 airport workers at JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark airports, the busiest aviation hub in the country.

“Airport workers are among the first people that millions of travelers see when they arrive at and depart from JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports. They are the ‘first and last’ essential workers at our airports,” Tall said. “While airlines have made record profits, wages and benefits of the workers keeping airports running are lagging. It is not enough for airport workers to be called ‘essential’ when they are needed; they also must receive the wages, health benefits, and labor standards that recognize this undeniable fact.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, airport workers were celebrated as essential worker heroes for being on the frontlines to make sure travelers got where they needed to go. Now, airport service workers are demanding that their sacrifices be recognized and their labor standards improved to ensure family-sustaining wages, adequate and affordable healthcare, and meaningful paid time off. 

“As a founding member of 32BJ SEIU’s airport’s division, I’ve taken part in every major effort to improve the working conditions at JFK, LGA, and EWR,” said Donna Hampton, 32BJ member and airport security officer. “Whether we were fighting for $19 per hour or to pass the Healthy Terminals Act, no victory came easily. But I never doubted that we would win. Now, after we proved, once again, how essential we are during and after the pandemic, it is time that we receive a family-sustaining wage, win meaningful paid time off, and protect our healthcare.”

Hundred of 32BJ members supported better wages and working conditions. Photos by Lloyd Mitchell

Airport workers from JFK and LaGuardia Airport who rallied Thursday perform a wide variety of essential jobs including security officers, terminal and cabin cleaners, baggage handlers, wheelchair agents, cargo handlers, and more, keeping airports secure, safe, clean, and customer-friendly.

“For my coworkers and I, one question continues to come up over and over; how do you survive in 2024 on $19 per hour?” said Fatiah Marrow, a 32BJ member and cabin cleaner. “I know that between my rent, student loans, utilities, car payment, and phone bill, the answer is a no for me. And I am far from alone. That is unacceptable. My coworkers and I are the reason airplanes are clean, safe, and can take off on time. We deserve and need a wage we can survive on.”

The worker’s demands come after airlines like American, Delta, and United, and other carriers, have seen substantial multi-billion dollar profits in the past year while workers’ wages and benefit packages are lagging behind, according to union officials.

“When I started I was getting $55 a week towards health care,” Sophia Harris, a worker at Union Aviation, said. “Now my coworkers are in trouble and could possibly lose [benefits] in the upcoming contract.”

Tall explained the goal of the new campaign to the cheers of the workers.

“You all keep this airport running,” she said. “You are the first and last workers to see millions of people coming and going.”

Marrow agreed.

“My coworkers and I are the reason airplanes are clean, safe, and can take off on time,” Marrow said. “We deserve and need a wage we can survive on.”

Photos by Lloyd Mitchell