JFK airport workers protest paid sick leave violations

Stephon Johnson | 5/16/2019, 5:04 p.m.
John F. Kennedy International Airport workers have called out their employers for violating the law at their expense.
Airport

John F. Kennedy International Airport workers have called out their employers for violating the law at their expense.

Last week, airport workers and elected officials gathered at City Hall to protest their employers forcing them to use up all of their paid sick time in March.

This past March, airport service contractor Eulen America told their employees to use up all of the sick time they accrued in 2018 or lose it. According to officials at 32BJ SEIU, the union that represents the airport workers, Eulen managers put up a sign by the punch-out clock to remind workers to use up their time. Workers announced that they’ve filed complaints with the city Department of Consumer and Worker Protection.

Two weeks ago, Reps. Donna Shalala and Frederica Wilson held a roundtable discussion at Miami International Airport about Eulen America, which featured a CBS story on hazardous working conditions for airport workers in that city.

Back in New York, elected officials spoke out against Eulen America’s alleged actions.

“Paid sick leave is critical to hard working New Yorkers,” stated Rep. Grace Meng. “The allegations raised by JFK workers are serious and I stand with them and 32BJ in their fight to protect paid sick leave. It allows members of our workforce to earn important time off so they can take time off when they are sick or need to care for a loved one. Any attempt to shortchange working men and women out of this critical benefit is unacceptable. I will continue to watch this situation closely.”

Passed by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration in a year ago, the Earned Safe and Sick Time Act (Paid Safe and Sick Leave Law) gives covered workers the right to use sick leave to care for themselves or a family member and the ability to seek legal and social services assistance or other safety measures if an employee or a family member are victims of domestic violence, unwanted sexual contact, stalking, or human trafficking.

The new law lets workers carry over their unused paid sick time—the same sick time that Eulen America forced their workers to use up.

“We were badly understaffed because workers were forced to use up their paid sick leave,” stated JFK-based Eulen passenger verification agent Whitney Moore. “Those of us working our shifts had to do everything, whether it’s in our job description or not. For instance, we did not have enough workers to push wheelchairs so managers, on a daily basis, asked my co-workers to push two wheelchairs at the same time because we were severely shorthanded. It ended up being a disservice to passengers and workers a like.”

32BJ SEIU Vice President and Organizing Director Rob Hill said Eulen America is underestimating his constituents. Hill referenced how workers won a mandated minimum wage of up to $19 an hour by 2023, the largest minimum wage raise in the nation.

“At our airports, there are still pockets where a few employers feel that they can stifle the aspirations of workers fighting for dignity in their workplaces and fighting for economic justice,” Hill stated. “As they are showing with their complaints to the city, Eulen workers are not going to take these abuses lying down.”

Under the Paid Safe and Sick Leave Law, employers with five or more employees who work more than 80 hours per calendar year in New York City have to provide paid safe and sick leave to employees. Employers with fewer than five employees must provide unpaid safe and sick leave. Accrual of safe and sick leave is at a rate of one hour of leave for every 30 hours worked, up to 40 hours per calendar year, and begins on employee’s first day of employment.

Employees can start using accrued leave after 120 days on the job. Employers who don’t frontload safe and sick leave on the first day of a new calendar year have to let employees carry over up to 40 hours of unused safe and sick leave to the new calendar year.

“Eulen America undermined the very purpose of sick leave by allegedly forcing workers to spend it at the contractor’s discretion, rather than when those workers actually needed it,” stated Congressman Greg Meeks. “Thankfully there are laws to protect against this type of workplace abuse, and I stand with 32BJ in ensuring that these workers’ claims are heard fairly and violations are met with justice.”