Last Tuesday, approximately 7,000 New York and New Jersey airport workers began negotiations for the first union contract for subcontracted airport workers in the region. Airport workers include security officers, cabin cleaners, terminal cleaners, customer service representatives, baggage handlers and skycaps.
Airport workers gathered at the event with support from elected officials including Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, New York Public Advocate Letitia James and New York City Council Members Donovan Richards, Inez Dickens, Margaret Chin, Ritchie Torres, Carlos Menchaca, Jimmy Van Bramer and Daneek Miller.
“Today was a historic moment for airport workers in New York, New Jersey and across the country. But there is still more to do,” stated Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU. “There are still thousands of airport workers in the region whose contractors have not recognized the workers’ right to a union. Airport workers across the region have vowed to keep fighting until all airport workers win union representation.”
“The right to bargain collectively as members of a labor union for fair wages and benefits always has been the foundation of the American middle class,” said Adams. “Finally, the airport workers who are now members of 32BJ have claimed that right for themselves after many hard years of organizing. These negotiations will establish that the airport workers who keep our nation on the move are entitled to respect for the dignity of their labor and the opportunity to pursue the American Dream.”
Airport workers have been fighting for a so-called living wage for three years now and have organized protests around tri-state area airports.
“Airport jobs used to be good jobs that you could support your family with, but unfortunately for the last three years airport workers have been fighting together to make airport jobs good jobs once again,” said Richards.
The Fight for $15 movement has spread from fast food workers to service workers of all kinds, and airport workers hope to continue the gains made by low-wage workers across the country who don’t want to rely on public assistance to supplement their meager incomes.
“When we started organizing three years ago, I was struggling to survive on poverty wages,” said Balfor Smith, a baggage handler who works at John F. Kennedy Airport. “Today my coworkers and I have a path to $15 an hour and we began bargaining our first union contract. It has been an amazing journey and I know we can keep fighting until this contract is negotiated and in place to protect the rights we have won on the job.”