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Photo by Bill Parry
Many of the airport workers who have protested for the right to organize have been laid off while to airline industry pushed for a $60 billion bailout.

Thousands of airport workers at LaGuardia and JFK airports have been laid off and many more are threatened by the collapse of air travel during the coronavirus emergency.

Contracted skycaps, wheelchair agents, cabin cleaners, baggage handlers and security personnel, many of them who marched, rallied and took part in sit-ins during an early decade-long fight for a fair wage, benefits and the right to organize, all while the airlines lobby for a nearly $60 billion taxpayer bailout.

Luerica Fiffee, a passenger service representative at JFK, was among the first to be laid off last week.

“If they are bailing out the airlines, they have to be bailing out the workers,” Fiffee said. “How am I going to manage? That, I’m not quite sure of yet. Literally no one is hiring. There is nothing you can do except hope and pray that something gets better.”

32BJ SEIU president Kyle Bragg said the bailout request by the airlines to Congress and President Trump shows the airline industry is again just looking out for itself at the expense of the workers.

“We cannot just do the same old trick of opening the bailout spigot to reward wealthy airline corporations while leaving the most vulnerable workers out in the cold,” Bragg said. “These workers earn the least yet risk themselves the most. Many lack health care to even care for themselves in the face of this pandemic.”

More than 50 New York state and city elected officials signed a letter of support for contract airport workers, including Councilman Donovan Richards, who represents many of the workers who live near JFK.

“We should flip the script that says corporations deserve to be showered with money while workers are stranded in the face of challenges,” Richards said. “Who needs relief more, hard-working New Yorkers who live paycheck to paycheck yet sacrifice the most, or profitable corporations that pay them as little as they could get away with? New Yorkers need relief. Members of our community need relief.”

Councilman Francisco Moya, who represents many of the workers that live near LaGuardia Airport, agreed.

“In the face of this pandemic, we should be sharing sacrifices, not cutting the ground out from hard-working New Yorkers,” Moya said. “These airlines take the labor of members of our communities, which they grudgingly compensate, then insist they are the only ones affected by this pandemic.”

Contracted airport workers are calling on Congress to support paid sick leave, affordable healthcare, and essential layoff protections while elected officials demand the same in any airline bailout legislation.

“It’s the hard labor of contracted airport workers that has enabled airlines to generate immense profits they have in recent years,” state Senator Michael Gianaris said. “We cannot bail them out without supporting those who have made them so profitable, who have been putting their lives on the line every time they go to work.”

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