Municipal Government

‘Slavery Is Over,’ Airport Workers Tell Bosses

June 27, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco

Workers call out bosses at LaGuardia Airport.

Workers call out bosses at LaGuardia Airport.

Queens, NY – Airport contractors who have yet to comply with Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye’s January order to bump up low-wage worker salaries, were assailed for their “slave-driven mentality” on Thursday, June 26, as hundreds of frustrated 32BJ SEIU members – along with Congressman Charlie Rangel – rallied at LaGuardia Airport. 

Companies who have thus far ignored Foye’s order to start paying an extra dollar to workers earning less than $9 an hour, on the way to phasing in a new $10.10 payrate, have until September 30, to comply with the directive. 

“We are not asking you anything that you don’t have in your power to do,” said Reverend Que English, senior minister, Bronx Christian Fellowship. “This intentional delay on your part is unacceptable – I don’t know if you got the memo, but slavery was abolished in 1865.”

In May, struggling airport workers – some facing eviction, or having difficulty just providing for their families, voted to become part of 32BJ SEIU

SEIU32BJ President Hector Figueroa.

SEIU32BJ President Hector Figueroa.

“You work hard and you deserve a good union contract, and the right to make the same wages and benefits as the people who work directly for the Port [Authority],” 32BJ SEIU President Hector Figueroa told demonstrators. “Same work, same pay!”

The union is vowing to keep the pressure on airport contractors from now until the September 30, deadline to comply with Foye’s order affecting more than 12,000 workers. But they hope that executives will decide to act sooner than that.  

“The time is now,” said Kyle Bragg, 32BJ SEIU secretary-treasurer. “The procrastination is over. The waiting is over. The Port [Authority] has made a mandate, and the [contractors] have to follow through on that mandate.”

Passengers arriving at LaGuardia Airport on Thursday afternoon, appear to agree that the thousands of low-wage workers who help keep travelers moving safely around the world, deserve better compensation. 

Congressman Charlie Rangel.

Congressman Charlie Rangel.

“Of course, they deserve it,” said Sarita Wilcox, an American Airlines passenger arriving from South America. “They work hard. And it’s only a few dollars.”

The venerable Charlie Rangel, who recently eked out a win over State Senator Adriano Espaillat to keep his 13th Congressional District seat, said that the nation simply cannot afford to have hardworking men and women pushed into poverty. 

“Your struggle for economic freedom may begin here, but it has to spread all over this country if we are going to survive as a country,” Congressman Rangel said. 

Reverend Michael A. Walrond, Jr. of the First Corinthians Baptist Church in Harlem, paraphrased President Barack Obama when he said, “Every American deserves a wage they can live on, savings they can retire on, and healthcare they can survive on.”

Rev. Que English.

Rev. Que English.

“Things are shifting,” Reverend Walrond continued. “The tide is turning. There is going to be a turnaround. Those that have been ignoring you, will have to listen to you.” 

Nelly Escobar, a cabin cleaner at JFK, said that both the airlines and their contractors have been put on notice – and that they must now comply with the Port Authority’s Plan for enhanced wages, benefits and healthcare for workers. 

“We work long, hard hours and can barely feed ourselves and our families,” Escobar said. “That’s not right.”

June 26, 2014

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