Political Leaders Rally Behind Airport Workers
PHOTO: A plane lands at JFK, where workers went on a brief strike Wednesday night. (Photo courtesy of Thinkstock)
Almost 2,000 contracted airport workers walked off the job late Wednesday night for an abbreviated strike, looking to draw attention to their desire to increase wages and the right to join a union.
By Thursday afternoon they had found some high-profile support – on Capitol Hill.
Sec. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who has taken on the aviation industry for the last 18 months over everything from security to the size of carry-on bags, said he backs the workers.
“When someone works as hard as these airport workers, they deserve a livable wage that can support their families, decent benefits, and the ability to represent themselves,” Schumer said. “I am proud to stand with SEIU and airport workers across the country on this national day of action to fight for dignity, respect and workplace fairness.”
Contract employees who handle everything from baggage handling to janitorial work walked out late Wednesday night at seven major airports – New York’s John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia, New Jersey’s Newark-Liberty, Boston Logan, Chicago O’Hare, Philadelphia International and Fort Lauderdale, Fla – before returning to work early Thursday morning.
“The decision go strike is a very difficult one to make because I have a daughter to feed and a mother that I am taking care of,” Jean Timmer, a cabin cleaner employed by Ultimate at JFK Airport, said in a statement. “But I am only paid $10.10 for the hard work that I do and you can imagine how hard it is to make ends meet, much less support a family, on such low pay in New York City.”
Workers have complained that the airline industry is driving down wages and quality of service by outsourcing jobs.
“I’m a single mother supporting a teenage son and my sick mother,” said Sharon Cruz Holguin, a line queue officer at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. “I am paid minimum wage and we can’t live on these low wages. My co-workers are on strike today after private contractors retaliated against them for speaking out for change.”
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wrote a letter to the workers last month, expressing her support for their efforts to improve conditions.
“I'm proud to support you in calling for safe working conditions, decent benefits, and fair wages for every airport worker in the country,” she wrote. “Airport jobs should be good jobs, and together we can make sure they are.”
The walkout was clearly more tactical than disruptive – let’s face it, not many flights take off at 3 a.m. – but the point was to deliver a message.
Art Wheaton, a senior lecturer at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, told USA Today “The strike by the contract workers has serious implications. By paying airport workers less than fast food workers in New York and other states, the airline industry limits the quality of applications being received and opens the door to abuse."
More by Rich Thomaselli
Get Travel Deals and Travel News
Recent Travel Opinions
Airlines & Airports