Hundreds of airport workers gathered at 32BJ headquarters this week to begin bargaining a first union contract for 7,000 subcontracted airport workers in New York and New Jersey.
As many wonder if the fight for $15 can win union recognition, these airport workers — baggage handlers, security officers, sky caps, cabin cleaners, terminal cleaners, customer service agents and others — 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.
“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.”
The workers 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.