In this holiday season, many of us may go to John F. Kennedy International Airport to travel or to pick up a relative or friend who is visiting. While at the airport, we will naturally expect and hope that security there is top-notch to ensure our safety and that of fellow travelers and visitors.
Airport safety is critically important to our nation and to each of us personally as we drop off loved ones for flights or travel ourselves. That’s why it made national news this month when men and women who work as security officers for two private contractors at JFK voted to authorize a strike.
In taking this vote, these officers, many of whom are people of color, took a stand to protest interference by their employers when workers have spoken out for higher standards for passenger safety and security.
They stood bravely to help protect all of us, and their stand was noticed.
A few days before the strike was scheduled to occur, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the airport, got involved. Its director issued a statement asking that employers sit down with our union and with airport workers who have been working to organize .
“The Port Authority strongly encourages all stakeholders in the ongoing labor dispute to work together to resolve their differences in time to ensure a smooth holiday travel season,” said Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye in the statement.
The workers then took another courageous stand. They decided to hold off on a strike to give talks a chance.
These workers who had authorized a strike are security officers employed by two private contractors at the airport, Air Serv and Global Elite Security.
You may not have heard of Air Serv or Global Elite before. I hadn’t until last year when workers for these contractors began trying to organize a union.
Both companies are part of a broad trend at our nation’s airports in which vital services such as security are being outsourced to private contractors. At the three New York-area airports alone, 16,000 jobs are outsourced, including those for security officers, wheelchair pushers, sky caps, cabin cleaners and baggage handlers. JFK has at least nine different private companies performing security functions such as guarding planes, securing the perimeter, baggage screening and manning access doors. These contractors work for different clients and without uniform standards or rules.
More broadly, competition among all of the various contractors has fueled a drive for lower and lower costs that has undermined standards throughout airports, including for the safety and security that the public rightfully demands of air transportation.
This trend has undermined our economic security as well as our physical safety. Outsourcing of airport services and the drive for ever-lower costs has stripped once good jobs down to minimum-wage positions for security officers and other workers. Many are paid so little that they have to rely on taxpayer-funded food, housing and health care to survive. That has hurt families, communities and our economy.
Better training and better compensation for the service workers who perform critical duties at JFK will improve passenger safety and airport security. It will establish a more stable workforce and send a jolt of economic vitality throughout the southeast Queens communities around the airport and throughout our city.
The men and women who voted to authorize a strike last week took a stand. They stood bravely for the right to speak out for high standards of safety and security that will lift their communities and protect all of us.