While inside the dry, warm concourse of Terminal 4, officials and Delta employees celebrated the grand opening of the airline’s new JFK Airport gateway, outside dozens of airport service workers marched in the cold drizzle, saying that while Delta Airlines received billions of dollars in subsidies for its new terminal, workers have been left with low pay and little job security.
The protest, organized by the largest service employees union in the New York area, 32BJ of SEIU, as well as New York Communities for Change, called on airlines and airport service companies to treat their employees better. Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Rosedale), who represents part of the airport and many of the workers who rallied, also attended the protest.
The workers, who mainly work for companies subcontracted by Delta for terminal operations, marched outside the building, where several hundred feet away, officials and executives were gathering for its official opening. They were calling for an increase in wages and benefits for workers and more job security.
“Today, Delta is celebrating and you have to wonder, are they laughing at us?” asked Jean Sassine, the Southeast Queens chairwoman for New York Communities for Change. “They got their money and their expansion. Their luxury travelers get pampered in their terrace sky deck. What do we get? Where are the good jobs we were promised?”
The protest was not only against Delta, but against other airlines that have received subsidies or tax breaks for doing work at JFK and LaGuardia airports, including American Airlines, which received $1.2 billion in bonds from the NYC Industrial Development Agency, a wing of the Economic Development Corporation, for construction of a new terminal at JFK. JetBlue and several foreign airlines such as Air France, Korean Air Lines and Lufthansa also received over $400 million collectively in subsidies for work at Terminal 1.
“Companies at the airport get billions and people like me — low-wage subcontracted airport service workers, continue to struggle to get by on wages as low as $8 an hour with no meaningful benefits,” said Terminal 4 security worker Tasleema Mohamed.
Jamaica resident Prince Jackson, a security officer for Air Serv who has worked in Delta’s terminal for more than three years, said he’s tired of being told there isn’t enough money for raises or benefits while billion-dollar terminals are constructed.
“We haven’t received a single pay raise since I started,” he said. “We work full-time and still wonder if we make enough to pay the bills. This is no way to live. The problem is Delta received millions of dollars in tax subsidies to expand Terminal 4, but at the same time, we’re told there isn’t enough money for raises or benefits. There’s enough money.”
Jackson says some employees who worked in Terminal 3, Delta’s former facility that they closed last Friday, do not even know if or when they will move to Terminal 4.
Michael Allen, a spokesman for 32BJ, said security employees remain at Terminal 3 since it closed, but their jobs will eventually be moved or eliminated.
“These workers don’t even know if they’ll have a job in Terminal 4,” he said. “All they want is to be given a better sense of what is going on.”
A spokeswoman for Delta offered no comment because many of the protesters were not employees of the airline.