Boston, MA—Non-union airport passenger service workers employed by Flight Services and Systems, Inc., a JetBlue contractor, went on strike this morning at Logan Airport to protest unfair labor practices. The company has repeatedly threatened employees for lawful organizing union activity.
“No airport worker should be subjected to coercion and intimidation,” said Roxana Rivera Vice President of 32BJ SEIU. “The decades-in-the-making race to the bottom in the aviation service industry has created a system so dysfunctional that on virtually any given day workers could walk off the job to protest anti-union practices.”
FSS’s troubling record at U.S. airports in recent years tells a story about a company with corner-cutting practices that could put the airlines they serve and members of the traveling public at risk. Employees at airports are responsible for maintaining safe practices, and for helping maintain order and passenger safety when unexpected events occur. Yet, the behavior of FSS towards these employees reflects a pattern of failing to meet even the most basic requirements: numerous wage and hour violations have been documented, along with instances of retaliation and racial discrimination.
- Wage Theft.Since 2012, FSS has paid out over $240,000 to employees alleging wage theft. In some cases they have attempted to excuse this conduct based on their own faulty recordkeeping, for which they have also been cited.
- This July, FSS reached a $223,520 settlement in a class action wage theft suit filed by former employees at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. Pending court approval, payment will be made to employees who worked for FSS at the New Orleans airport at any time within a three year period, during which the company allegedly failed to pay overtime and the minimum wage by “shaving” four to five hours per week from each employee’s pay. The original plaintiff accused FSS of failing to pay any wages at all above 40 hours, despite his regularly working 50 to 60 hour weeks.
- In September 2014, FSS was ordered to pay $2,691 in back wages to two wheelchair dispatchers at the Dallas/Fort-Worth Airport for forcing them to work during unpaid breaks, and was also found not to have kept accurate records.
- In 2013, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office ordered FSS to pay $4,129 in back wages to wheelchair attendants for failure to pay the minimum wage, having instead required the employees to falsify tips.
- In 2012, FSS was ordered to pay $12,720 in back wages to 183 employees at the Denver International Airport, along with $40,260 in civil penalties, for failing to pay the minimum wage or keep accurate records.
- Retaliation Lawsuit.In 2014, an FSS skycap for JetBlue at Logan Airport in Boston was awarded nearly $1 million for a retaliatory firing that took place after supervisors pressured him to drop an earlier lawsuit against FSS and JetBlue concerning tipping practices. Court documents state that CEO Robert A. Weitzel “repeatedly yelled at” the general manager over the phone to fire the employee, and supervisors at Logan soon complied. Although FSS argued that the firing was for unrelated reasons, the judge wrote that the employee had “found himself in the CEO’s crosshairs” as a result of his leading role in the tip lawsuit, and that the firing was clearly retaliatory given Weitzel’s behavior.
- Racial Discrimination. FSS is currently facing a class action lawsuit which is awaiting action by the United States Supreme Court, after allegedly firing as many as 50 Ethiopian employees from the Denver International Airport and then hiring exclusively white replacement staff. The facts stated in the district court opinion corroborate a purge of employees of East African origin: “Indeed, at one point, FSS was terminating as many as ten Ethiopians per day.” FSS allegedly accomplished this partly by refusing to provide translation for badge renewal tests, preventing experienced employees from continuing to work. A federal EEOC investigation found that FSS had “engaged in a nationwide pattern or practice of discrimination,” and that “[Flight Services’] discriminatory practices adversely affect a class of aggrieved individuals who are Black, or whose nationality favors a language other than English.”
While airlines across the country have been making record profits, the airport workers who make these profits possible are struggling to survive in jobs that pay poverty wages, provide little to no affordable health care, and few paid days off.
Various studies have shown that these working conditions can directly affect airport worker’s families and their communities. Like fast food workers, who they have supported during similar national strikes, airport workers have been organizing for the past three years and have committed to do whatever it takes to win $15 and union rights. As airport workers have been organizing for better lives, many of the subcontractors they work for have committed health and safety violations and many of their demands for better treatment have been met with illegal repression.
Logan Airport, New England’s largest transportation center brings more than $7 billion in economic activity to the area, but many of the workers there do not reap the benefits. To cut costs, airlines like JetBlue outsource passenger service jobs to low-bid contractors. This low-bid system leaves cabin cleaners, wheelchair attendants and baggage handlers who allow the airport to run making as little as $11 an hour and without access to affordable health benefits.
With 145,000 members in eleven states and Washington, D.C., 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.