Airlines at JFK Reap Billions, Pay Paltry Wages

May 25, 2013
By Marc Bussanich

Prince Jackson, a security worker at JFK, speaks outside Terminal 4

Prince Jackson, security worker at JFK Airport

Queens, NY—At the opening of the $1.4 billion Terminal 4 at JFK International Airport where Delta Air Lines will be relocating, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that 7,000 Delta employees will be able to realize the American Dream. But Prince Jackson, a security worker for a Delta subcontractor, hasn’t had a raise in more than three years. Watch Video

“Delta is one of our major employers. Over the past six years, Delta has doubled the number of employees based at JFK, which now totals over 7,000. That means 7,000 families can educate their kids and enjoy the great American dream thanks to Delta Airlines,” said Mayor Bloomberg.

While the mayor and Delta executives were celebrating the grand opening, airport workers cut their own ribbon to announce the terminal’s opening and to highlight the plight of their low pay and poor working conditions.

Mr. Jackson and his co-workers have been organizing for over two years to improve their wages and win healthcare benefits and paid sick days. The property service union, 32BJ SEIU, has been helping the workers to improve their conditions.

Union officials said that while Delta is taking credit for investing over $1 billion to expand Terminal 4, the Port of Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates JFK, issued special bonds to finance the project.

According to the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, which regulates the municipal bond market, the Port of Authority issued almost $800 million in special project bonds, also called “Series 8 Bonds,” which is being financed by some of the biggest financial firms including Barclays Capital, Goldman, Sachs & Co., J.P. Morgan and Citi.

The union notes that Delta and other airlines used to hire directly workers at decent wages for cabin cleaning, terminal security, baggage handling, wheelchair assistance and sky cap services. But now the airlines bid out those services to multiple contractors who trip over each other to offer the lowest bid.

The opening of the new terminal will allow Delta to capture more international flights from high-paying customers in New York, the biggest U.S. aviation market. Some of the new amenities include the Delta Sky Club, where customers will be able to choose from sushi, cheese, charcuterie, dessert and Delta’s Business Elite wines.

But meantime Mr. Jackson says his low wage compels him to put off paying some bills for a month.

“This is no way to live and this is an outrage. We’ve been fighting for two-and-half years to organize and get higher standards—better wages, paid sick days and healthcare benefits. This expansion shows the money is there, but they refuse to give us any of it,” said Jackson.

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May 25, 2013

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