The protest took place on January 20, or Martin Luther King Day. Nearly 1,000 airport workers and supporters — including elected officials — protested poverty wages and a lack of benefits on a bridge leading to LaGuardia.
Since the arrest, airport workers have seen improvements and are now counting down to April 28, when the 90-day deadline set by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for major carriers and their contractors to have set a plan for improved wages and benefits will expire.
Included in those who marched from JFK to LaGuardia was Congressman Charles Rangel, who shamed those airlines that did not immediately respond to the rallies with improvements.
“You cannot ask these hardworking men and women at our airports to do important work, then turn around and pay them poverty wages,” Rangel said. “Our city and our region deserve better and shame on the airlines that are still standing on the sidelines of this effort to improve the lives and communities of these workers.”
Currently, certain airline employees struggle to live on their salaries because passenger services are subcontracted out to private firms, which hire workers for minimum wage and little to no benefits. There are about 12,000 subcontracted airport service workers at Newark, JFK and LaGuardia.
For the past two years, these workers have organized rallies and signed petitions, culminating in the protest in January. After the protest, the Port Authority called on American, Delta, JetBlue and United Airlines to give contracted passenger service workers at JFK and LaGuardia who make $9 or less an immediate $1-an-hour raise with a phase-in to $10.10.
They also requested for the airlines to recognize Martin Luther King Day as a paid holiday and to develop a plan for improved wage and benefits packages for their employees within 90 days. That 90-day deadline arrives in a few short weeks, on April 28.
Delta signed the plan first and gave its contracted workers their dollar raise on March 1. American Airlines signed afterward, but still has not given its employees a raise. JetBlue refused to sign and United Airlines has yet to comment on the demands.
In the meantime, the Port Authority is working to develop a policy for wage increases and benefits for employees in all sectors of the Port Authority, beginning with airline workers.
For many, that policy will be life-changing. Michael Carey, a JFK security officer, said that significant progress has been made already, but emphasized the importance of continuing to fight.
“We are in a struggle for our very livelihood,” Carey said. “Any plan, whether it’s from the Port Authority or the airlines and their contractors, must offer us a collective bargaining process so we can negotiate for things like affordable health care and family-sustaining wages and, in the coming years, in response to what is happening in the economy, we can improve our situation incrementally through a contract that we bargain with our employers.”