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NY/NJ airport workers win first union contracts

Stephon Johnson | 12/22/2016, 12:37 p.m.
Four years of hard work has paid off for New York and New Jersey airport workers.
Airport

Four years of hard work has paid off for New York and New Jersey airport workers.

Last week, after years of organizing and seven months of negotiations, 8,000 workers at LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy and Newark airports agreed to their first ever union contract.

With the assistance of 32BJ SEIU, the tentative agreement with 11 airline subcontractors includes seniority rules, scheduling protocols, disciplinary procedures and health and safety guidelines. New York airport workers will receive their first raise toward a $15 minimum wage in January, which means they’re one of the first groups of employees in the United States to win both a $15 hourly wage and a union.

The contract, which lasts three years, is expected to be ratified by workers over the course of the next week.

“This is a historic moment for airport workers not only in New York and New Jersey, but for workers around the country,” stated Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU. “It has been a long time since such a large group of workers have been able to successfully organize for union membership. This contract shows that despite a changing political landscape and ongoing struggle, workers will always find ways to come together to better their jobs and their lives.”

“This contract is just one part of a larger strategy to raise wages and win union representation,” added Shirley Aldebol, vice president of 32BJ and a lead negotiator for the airport workers’ contract, in a statement. “Using innovative and creative new approaches to organizing, airport workers have won substantial wage increases in New York and New Jersey and across the country.”

When the AmNews spoke to Alberto Grant Jr., one of the leaders in the campaign bargaining committee, he said that the group planned on going on strike in the coming weeks if negotiations fell through during the holidays.

“They’re used to having their own way and not having a union on their back telling them what to do,” said Grant when speaking of the contractors at the negotiation table. “These companies are brand-new to doing contracts with a union. For them, it was like a new process.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also expressed joy at airport workers reaching a new deal.

“Our economy grows when workers succeed, and our airports are safer when airport workers have the work resources and support they need to provide the best service possible,” stated de Blasio.

Even though New York has reached a $15 minimum wage, New Jersey has a two-tiered system at the region’s airports. Salaries of workers at those airports will remain $10.10 per hour. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka is working on that.

“Newark Airport workers shouldn’t be treated as second class citizens,” stated Baraka. “I am proud to have stood with Newark Airport workers in their fight for union representation over the last four years. And I will continue to support these hardworking men and women to ensure they get what they deserve—at least a $15 minimum wage and benefits to go along with their new union rights.”

So what’s next for workers? What’s the plan for the new contract because three years can go by quickly? Grant said that contractors should know that helping their employees makes the employees happier to work for them.

“We just want to deal with getting more money and getting health insurance, 401(k) stuff and schooling to learn other trades,” said Grant. “The unions have a lot to offer.”