New report suggests wage theft of airport worker salaries

Stephon Johnson | 11/30/2014, 4:02 p.m.

Airport workers in New York have been fighting for better benefits and a living wage for several years. Now, they might have to fight to keep the wages they have. According to a new 32BJ report titled, “Grounded Before Takeoff,” wage theft at New York area airports is just as bad as, or worse than, wage theft at other service agencies.

“When I heard from people that I was entitled to extra money in my paycheck but that [my company] never gave it to me, I felt pretty horrible,” Gian Lopez, who works as a baggage handler for Aviation SafeGuards at La- Guardia, said in the report. “All that extra money, even if it’s just a few dollars a week, could have been saved to buy my daughter essential items, such as diapers.”

The survey, which was conducted by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research for 32BJ, found that 88 percent of subcontracted airport workers reported at least one violation of wage and hour laws by their employer, with 69 percent of workers reporting multiple violations within the past year.

According to the report, 69 percent reported earning $9.50 or less per hour, putting them below New York City’s poverty line. The reports also state that 60 percent of workers reported experiencing some form of financial hardship while working at the airport, with 50 percent on public assistance and 20 percent reporting that they skipped a meal within the past week because of financial reasons.

“For low-wage workers already struggling to make ends meet, the rampant wage and hour violations at the airports are a second blow to the hardworking skycaps, wheelchair attendants, baggage handlers and other workers who keep our airports running every day,” said Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU, in a statement. “These violations are not only illegal, but they expose the broader malfunction of the subcontracting system at the airports.”

Over the past few years, workers at LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy International and Newark Liberty International airports have filed several lawsuits over wage and hour violations. The most recent being this past October, when a U.S. District court in New York approved a $605,000 settlement with Primeflight Aviation Services for wage and hour violations, which included failing to pay the minimum wage, failing to pay overtime compensation and failing to pay a uniform maintenance fee.

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman talked about workers constantly being cheated by their employers. “Airlines and the companies that operate our airports should make certain that the contractors they hire act responsibly,” said Schneiderman in a statement. “Together, we can send a strong message to anyone that would take advantage of lowwage workers: We won’t stand for it.” September 24, Schneiderman announced a wage theft settlement with a JFK contractor for nearly $1 million.