Airport Workers from Major U.S. Airports Strike for Better Wages and Working Conditions

Jennifer Melendez and Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

On November 18, 2015, 2,000 airport workers went on a strike against airline subcontractors, Rome and Ultimate Aircraft to protest poor working conditions, low wages and the subcontractors’ retaliation against the workers for unionizing.

The strikes were widespread, taking place at New York’s John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, New Jersey’s Newark Liberty airport as well as several other major US airports. The protesters included those lower paid airport workers such as cleaners, wheelchair attendants, and baggage handlers. According to union leaders, many of these workers are making as little as $6.75 an hour. Marc Goumbri, the Service Employees International Union’s  spokesperson, stated:

Despite working full time, they cannot afford to rent a room for themselves let alone take care of their families. The workers have a right to get together under federal law and fight for better working conditions, but when they do so they face retaliation from the contractors.

After the strike ended, the subcontractors prohibited six lead organizers of the strike from returning to work at JFK. The union noted that although it was not uncommon for a subcontractor to turn away employees when a shift is slow and workers are not needed, these rejections seemed targeted. Fortunately, the workers were able to return to work that weekend. The airport workers’ strike is another instance in the widespread effort to improve wages like the campaign for a $15 minimum wage for fast food workers.

The airport workers also claim that they are working in poor and hazardous conditions. For example, airport terminal and cabin cleaners alleged that the subcontractors failed to supply them with sanitary gloves or goggles when cleaning airport bathrooms and airplane galleys. The cabin cleaners also alleged that contractors distribute unmarked cleaning chemicals. In June of this year, cabin cleaners filed an OSHA complaint against the subcontractors alleging that they did not provide them with protective equipment and exposed them to blood pathogens. An anonymous employee testified saying:

The company gives me five rags to clean fourteen or more planes and each plane has three to four bathrooms. I have to use the same rag to clean the floor, wall, toilet and sink.

Employees should not have to fear for their health because of poor working conditions. Additionally, employees should have the right to strike, free of retaliation, to address injustices in the workplace.

If you feel that you have been retaliated against by an employer for making efforts to unionize or have experienced poor or hazardous working conditions, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.