This morning 7,000 airport workers in New York and New Jersey begin bargaining a first union contract for subcontracted airport workers in the region— baggage handlers, security officers, sky caps, cabin cleaners, terminal cleaners, customer service agents and others. Hundreds of airport workers gathered at their union headquarters for the event and were joined by elected officials — including Brooklyn Borough President Erick Adams, Queens BP Melinda Katz, NY Public Advocate Tish James, New York City Councilmembers Donovan Richards, Daneek Miller, Inez Dickens, Margaret Chin, Carlos Menchaca, Ritchie Torres and Jimmy Van Bramer — and religious leaders including Bishop Orlando Findlayter and other community supporters before negotiations kicked off.
As many wonder if the fight for $15 can win union recognition, these airport workers who have played a central role in the campaign have proved that $15 and a union is more than just a distant dream.
“When we started organizing three years ago, I was struggling to survive on poverty wages. Today my coworkers and I have a path to $15 an hour and we began bargaining our first union contract. It has been an amazing journey and I know we can keep fighting until this contract is negotiated and in place to protect the rights we have won on the job,” said Balfor Smith, a Baggage Handler at JFK airport.
Airport workers represent one of the nation’s most successful union organizing efforts in recent years with more than 70,000 previously low wage airport workers around the country winning raises and thousands more winning union recognition nationally in the three years since the campaign kicked off. In New York and New Jersey airport workers, who are now members of 32BJ, began bargaining Tuesday.
“Today was a historic moment for airport workers in New York, New Jersey and across the country. But there is still more to do,” said Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU. “There are still thousands of airport workers in the region whose contractors have not recognized the workers’ right to a union. Airport workers across the region have vowed to keep fighting until all airport workers win union representation.”
While airport workers negotiate for a contract that will cover workplace rights, it is still up to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to raise wages and benefits for all workers in the region.
“The right to bargain collectively as members of a labor union for fair wages and benefits always has been the foundation of the American middle class,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams. “Finally, the airport workers who are now members of 32BJ have claimed that right for themselves, after many hard years of organizing. These negotiations will establish that the airport workers who keep our nation on the move are entitled to respect for the dignity of their labor and the opportunity to pursue the American Dream.”
“Airport jobs used to be good jobs that you could support your family with, but unfortunately for the last three years, airport workers have been fighting together to make airport jobs good jobs once again,” said Council Member Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton). “The wages many of these workers are simply not livable in New York City. As one of the largest employers in Queens, we need our airports to negotiate in good faith to ensure that all New Yorkers can afford to pay rent and put food on the table without having to make essential sacrifices.”
With more than 155,000 members, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service union in the country.