New York, NY – On Thursday, May 9, JFK Airport workers rallied on the steps of City Hall to protest Eulen America’s new policy regarding the use of paid sick-leave time. The workers announced that they have filed complaints with the New York City Department of Worker Protection (DCWP).
The airport workers were joined by their allies, community activists and elected officials, including Council Members Rafael Espinal Jr., Donovan Richards, Keith Powers, and Francisco Moya, and Sherry Leiwant, co-founder & co-president of A Better Balance, among others.
In March, Eulen told the workers that they have to use up all the paid sick-leave time in March that they accrued in 2018, although New York City’s Earned Safe and Sick Time Act (Paid Safe and Sick Leave Law) allows employees to carry over up to 40 hours of unused sick leave over to the next calendar year. To add insult to injury, Eulen managers even put up a sign by the time clock to remind workers to use up the time.
“We were badly understaffed because workers were forced to use up their paid sick leave,” JFK, Eulen passenger verification agent Whitney Moore said. “Those of us working our shifts had to do everything, whether it’s in our job description, or not. For instance, we did not have enough workers to push wheelchairs so managers, on a daily basis, asked my co-workers to push two wheelchairs at the same time because we were severely shorthanded. It ended up being a disservice to passengers and workers alike.”
“Now, as I understand it,” JFK, Eulen bag runner Levelle Lindsey said, “the law is supposed to make it easier for workers like me to take sick leave when we need it, not when it’s convenient for our employer to have us use the time.
“The consequence, beyond the immediate chaos it created for passengers at the airport and in our lives, is that we no longer have the accrued time that we carried over from last year to use when, God forbid, we should need it. We have to wait to accrue more paid sick leave time or go unpaid if we needed time to care for ourselves or family members.”
The law also gives covered workers the right to use sick leave to care for themselves or a family member and to seek legal and social services assistance or take other safety measures if the employee or a family member may be the victim of any act or threat of domestic violence or unwanted sexual contact, stalking, or human trafficking.
“Eulen America undermined the very purpose of sick leave by allegedly forcing workers to spend it at the contractor’s discretion, rather than when those workers actually needed it. Thankfully there are laws to protect against this type of workplace abuse, and I stand with 32BJ in ensuring that these workers’ claims are heard fairly and violations are met with justice,” Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY) said.
“Paid sick leave is critical to hard working New Yorkers,” Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) said. “The allegations raised by JFK workers are serious and I stand with them and 32BJ in their fight to protect paid sick leave. It allows members of our workforce to earn important time off so they can take time off when they are sick or need to care for a loved one. Any attempt to shortchange working men and women out of this critical benefit is unacceptable. I will continue to watch this situation closely.”
“Workers are deprived of the right to take care of their health when bosses force them to use sick leave unnecessarily. This law is meant to protect the well-being of workers and their families, not the scheduling conveniences of those they work for. I stand in solidarity with the employees of Eulen America because nobody should have to choose between a paycheck and their health,” Council Member Rafael Espinal said.
“Denying these airport workers their lawful right to sick leave is petty, cheap and shameful,” Council Member Francisco Moya said. “Everyone gets sick. Providing paid sick leave isn’t a luxury, it’s simply acknowledging reality and responding humanely. It’s curious how wealth never trickles down to the working class but hardship always seems to when it comes to corporations like Eulen America and their profits. I stand in solidarity with the Eulen America workers at JFK and for treating people with dignity and decency.”
Workers accrue one hour for every 30 hours worked but, because most workers are part-time who struggle to get 30 hours in a given week, it take a long time for workers to accrue paid sick leave time.
32BJ SEIU Vice President and Organizing Director Rob Hill said Eulen America is underestimating airport workers. Airport workers have shown great courage in their persistence fight to improve working conditions at the airports. Just last year, he said, workers won the largest mandated minimum wage in the nation, up to $19 an hour by 2023.
“At our airports, there are still pockets where a few employers feel that they can stifle the aspirations of workers fighting for dignity in their workplaces and fighting for economic justice,” Hill said. “As they are showing with their complaints to the city, Eulen workers are not going to take these abuses lying down.”
“I stand with the members of SEIU Local 32BJ and support their actions against Eulen America for alleged abuse of the Paid Safe and Sick Leave Law,” Council Member Mark Levine said. “This law is very clear on stipulating that workers are allowed to carry-over up to forty hours of sick time into a new year. If Eulen is denying employees this right, the NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection needs to immediately reprimand Eulen America and get them to reverse the policy. Adequate sick leave is a right and we need to be vigilant in defending that right in the face of companies trying to short change their employees.”