A cold, raw drizzle did not keep more than 100 airport workers from marching clear across Queens demanding higher pay last Friday.
Sporting ponchos and carrying signs in both English and Spanish, the workers marched 10 miles from JFK Airport to LaGuardia.
The date of the protest was no accident: April 4 was the 46th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Speakers at the rally noted that King was shot and killed in Memphis, Tenn. where he was to rally with sanitation workers seeking higher wages and better benefits.
The march started around 11:30 a.m. outside the Lefferts Boulevard AirTrain station in JFK Airport. It headed north on Lefferts, then along Queens Boulevard and past the Forest Hills office of contractor Aviation Safeguard, one of the companies the workers are calling on to raise wages.
The protest continued along Junction Boulevard and 94th Street to LaGuardia Airport, where the workers arrived later in the afternoon.
At JFK Airport, elected officials, union leaders, clergy and workers spoke, including Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Manhattan), state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) and Council members Ruben Wills (D-South Jamaica) and Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows).
“On this day 46 years ago, Dr. King lost his life while in Memphis standing with sanitation workers who were fighting for their rights. Today we are marching in New York with 32BJ airport workers who are fighting for these same protections,” said Vincent Alvarez, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO. “It is unconscionable that the companies employing these airport workers think it’s OK to pay poverty wages, all while refusing to provide the safety equipment necessary to protect employees and passengers alike.”
After a similar protest in January for King’s birthday, The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey called on the four major carriers — American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue and United Airlines — and their contractors to give passenger service workers who make $9 or less an immediate $1-an-hour raise with a phase-in to $10.10. The PA also asked contractors to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a paid holiday and work toward “providing an improved wage and benefits package to the thousands of hardworking men and women” at the airports, developing a plan within 90 days.
Delta was the first to sign on to the plan and its contracted workers began receiving the dollar raise on March 1 at Kennedy Airport. American soon followed but its workers have yet to receive the dollar raise, according to the union. JetBlue declined and United, Newark Airport’s largest carrier, has been silent on the issue.
Michael Carey, a JFK security officer, said workers at the airports have seen significant progress already and that keeps them optimistic for more changes.
“We are in a struggle for our very livelihood,” he 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 healthcare 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.”