Airline Snubs Councilman, Striking Workers

April 24, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco

Hanging on the line: Councilman Ben Kallos.

Hanging on the line: Councilman Ben Kallos.

New York, NY – A Manhattan councilman hoping to secure a meeting with British Airways officials on behalf of striking airport workers was left cooling his heels on Park Avenue Thursday afternoon before ultimately being told that no one from the company would speak to him.

Councilman Ben Kallos [D-5th District] accompanied about five baggage handlers and wheelchair attendants into the lobby of 2 Park Avenue yesterday afternoon seeking a meeting with British Airways officials to talk about allegations of wage theft and ongoing worker exploitation at LaGuardia and JFK airports. 

Some 250 baggage handlers and wheelchair attendants at the city’s travel hubs walked off the job on April 23, to protest unfair labor practices associated with Aviation Safeguards — a subcontractor for both Delta Airlines and British Airways. 

But the chair of city council’s Committee on Governmental Operations never got out of 2 Park Avenue’s lobby and was instead directed to a ground floor phone bank where he was cut off twice before learning that he and the striking airport workers would be allowed no further.

“It’s very disappointing,” a dejected councilman Kallos said. 

Earlier this year, the National Labor Relations Board found Aviation Safeguards guilty of illegally attempting to intimidate employees speaking out for better working conditions. Threats of termination, however, reportedly continue. 

Jean-Claude Momboint, a 56-year-old father of three living with his brother in Valley Stream, Long Island, said British Airways’ refusal to meet with Councilman Kallos and his co-workers this week was a callous sign of disrespect. 

Airport workers rally with 32BJ.

Airport workers rally with 32BJ.

“When you are in the lower class, you have to stay in the lower classe,” Mamboint told LaborPress. “You cannot grow.”

Like many of his colleagues, Mamboint, who emigrated to the United States from Haiti three years ago, must work a second job to supplement his $10.10 an hour airport salary. Life in America is far different than he imagined. 

“I expected more,” Mamboint  said.  

Pedro Gamboa, an Aviation Safeguards baggage handler at JFK, said that low wage workers have to be “magicians” just to make it in this town. 

“We are no longer going to stand for this,” Gamboa said. “We don’t need poverty wages. We are responsible people who would like to be treated with dignity and respect.”

In a continuing show of solidarity, this week’s airport walkout saw the participation of fast food workers, car wash workers and other low-wage earners who have come together in the continuing fight to win a $15 an hour minimum wage and the right to unionize. 

Earlier this morning, members of 32BJ SEIU, the union championing airport workers, accompanied striking baggage handlers and wheelchair attendants as they returned to work.

“We demand the right to organize,” Councilman Kallos told demonstrators rallying outside of 2 Park Avenue on Thursday. “We’re here today to call on British Airways to make Aviation Safeguards treat workers fairly.”

April 23, 2015

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