Published On: Mon, Apr 4th, 2016

JFK workers strike to get $15 minimum wage, OSHA violations fixed

Hundreds of cabin cleaners, terminal cleaners and wheelchair attendants employed by JetBlue’s subcontractors Roma, Ultimate and Pax at JFK Airport walked off the job in protest of illegal intimidation and alleged safety concerns.

The full release is below:

Hundreds of underpaid cabin cleaners, terminal cleaners and wheelchair attendants employed by JetBlue’s subcontractors Roma, Ultimate and Pax at JFK Airport walked off the job last night in protest of illegal intimidation. The strike was initially planned for last Wednesday, but airport workers postponed and held vigils instead due to the terror attacks on Brussels Airport and the resulting security concerns.

Last week Brussels baggage handlers and security officers saved lives through their heroic acts. No matter what their function, all workers at airports could potentially serve as first responders in the case of an emergency. While airport workers in the U.S. do their best to keep airports safe and secure for the millions of passengers who pass through every day, they have faced intimidation and threats when they raise safety and health concerns on the job.

“As cabin cleaners we are supposed to do the security checks on the planes, but in the past six months Ultimate has sometimes told us not to do these checks, telling us there just isn’t enough time to complete them. Recently they had us start doing the checks again, but who knows when they could just change their mind?” said Carlos Vega, a cabin cleaner who works for the subcontractor Ultimate at JFK Airport. “In response to our organizing, Ultimate has illegally cut our hours and even tried to suspend some of us. We are on strike to protect our own safety and the safety of our passengers.”

Striking workers from all three subcontractors have faced illegal threats and intimidation while they have organized to change issues like this.

  • Ultimate’s cabin cleaners have reported that the company sometimes rushes them through much needed security checks on JetBlue planes and often only gives them enough time to conduct security checks when TSA is auditing their work. The subcontractor Ultimate has committed unfair labor practices when it retaliated against these airport workers by cutting their hours.
  • In the case of Roma and Ultimate, both companies have been cited by OSHA and have missed the agency’s required deadlines to fix their health and safety violations. The subcontractor Roma has illegally tried to buy off and even threatened to fire airport workers who were organizing around health and safety issues
  • The subcontractor Pax has illegally tried to intimidate and discipline workers who were organizing around health and safety issues.

All three companies have seen their employees file health and safety complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for lack of supplies, inadequate training and occupational exposure to blood borne pathogens and more over the last few months.

Workers at other major hubs in Seattle, Chicago, Boston, Newark, Philadelphia, Fort Lauderdale, Washington, D.C., and Portland, Ore., are also striking today over similar unfair labor practices. The strike is taking place amidst record profits for the aviation industry. Last year alone, airlines raked in more than $23 billion in profits while many airport workers continue to live in abject poverty.

Recent studies have shown that airport workers who provide critical services— such as assisting disabled passengers, performing security functions and maintaining public health standards— are too often poorly compensated, receive little training and have few incentives to stay in their jobs over the long-term. Health and safety experts believe these conditions put travelers and passengers at elevated risk.

The right to protest was affirmed again in Pennsylvania US UNCUT Joins "We Are One" March   twitter.com/JeanPaulHolmes

LIke teachers, airport workers are protesting conditions photo/ US UNCUT Joins “We Are One” March twitter.com/JeanPaulHolmes

Airport workers across the country are concerned that inadequate safety and health standards, along with low wages, high turnover, insufficient or lack of training not only put workers in danger but also undermine safety and quality of service. Contractors in multiple states have been cited for serious violations of health and safety laws. Violations are deemed serious when they could cause an accident that is likely to cause death or serious physical harm.

“Every time we board a plane, we entrust our health and safety to cabin cleaners. However, these same airport workers are often forced to work under hazardous conditions. This is completely unacceptable and should not be tolerated in our city,” said New York City Council Member Mark Levine. “I’m proud to stand with New York airport workers to send an unmistakable message that their health and safety must be a priority for us all.”

“Airport workers should not be subject to the low wages and the intimidation tactics we keep hearing about” said New York City Council Member I. Daneek Miller “No airliner would be able to operate without the hard working people who ensure the airplane is clean, the passengers are cared for, and everyone is safe, and these companies should give their employees the living wages and benefits they deserve.”

“I was appalled to hear about the conditions airport workers face and shocked to hear about the illegal bribes, intimidation and threats that workers encounter when they try to make our airports better places to work and travel through,” said Council Member and Deputy Leader Jumaane D. Williams. “This fight affects us all and I’m proud to stand with airport workers and 32BJ and say, all workers deserve to earn a living wage without suffering abuse and dangerous conditions.”

“Airport employees work tirelessly every day to keep travelers safe. They often work under hazardous conditions, face illegal intimidation from employers, and do not receive a living wage for the crucial jobs they perform. That’s why I’m proud to stand with 32BJ SEIU and New York airport personnel to send a clear message to employers: our city’s workers deserve living wages, good benefits, safe working conditions, and a workplace free of harassment,” said New York City Council Member Van Bramer.

Airport workers made history last Novemberwith the first-ever national airport strikes when thousands of workers walked off the job at seven of the country’s busiest hubs to shine a spotlight on the subpar conditions they’re subjected to. The workers also embarked on a nationwide Thanksgiving fast, which brought national attention to the crisis at our airports. Earlier this year, dozens of airport workers and supporters were arrested across the country as they engaged in civil disobedience to honor the legacy of Dr. King by protesting the gross injustices and inequality that persist at our nation’s airports.

Sally Field Norma Rae Union sign photo

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