Airport workers continued the fight for their rights, as baggage handlers at John F. Kennedy Airport went on strike last week.
One hundred baggage handlers walked off the job over unfair labor practices by their employer, the subcontractor Aviation Safeguards.
“Illegal, unfair labor practices, like the threatening letter sent to Aviation Safeguards’ baggage handlers, spread fear and misunderstanding among airport workers already struggling to survive on poverty wages,” said Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ, in a statement. “It’s clear airline subcontractors like Aviation Safeguards need more oversight.”
“I have dealt with so much disrespect on the job, and I am striking today because, after that letter, I am just fed up,” said Santo Bonanno, an Aviation Safeguards baggage handler at JFK, in a statement. “We already make poverty wages and do backbreaking work. I can’t even afford to move out of my mother’s house, and when I come to work, they threaten me for fighting for a better life. It’s ridiculous.”
Back in September, baggage handlers, skycaps and wheelchair attendants claimed that their employer, Alstate Maintenance, engaged in improper and unfair labor practices by harassing and threatening workers who tried to organize and wore pro-union (SEIU Local 32BJ) apparel.
Baggage handlers at Aviation Safeguards have filed a plethora of lawsuits over the past two years and issued various complaints about health and safety violations and wage theft. Along with 12,000 other subcontracted airport workers in at JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports, they have been fighting for higher wages, better benefits and the right to organize.
Many workers claim to experience financial hardship and an inability to provide for their families because of low wages.
Aviation Safeguards’ baggage handlers have also dealt with threats while trying to organize. According to workers, they received a letter from the Aviation Safeguards’ Human Resources Department stating that employees who chose to strike “are not protected. This means participating employees may be disciplined or even fired.” The regional director of the National Labor Relations Board found probable cause to charge the contractor with making illegal disciplinary threats.
“I am proud to stand with the Aviation Safeguards employees who are organizing and fighting for wages and benefits that can support their families,” said City Comptroller Scott Stringer in a statement. He also joined the protesters to show support. “As the destination for millions of tourists who support our city’s economy and the modern gateway to America for those who come to our shores in search of a better life, our airports should represent the best of what this city has to offer: fairness and opportunity for all.”