JFK Airport workers threaten strike without new labor contract

Members of Local BJ 32 protest outside JFK airport.
Members of Local BJ 32 protest outside JFK airport.
Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

Hundreds of airport workers with 32BJ held a rally outside of JFK Terminal 5 on April 21 in preparation of a possible walkout unless they receive a fair contract.  

Over 10,000 New York and New Jersey airport workers at JFK, LGA, and EWR are demanding the proper implementation of a new healthcare legislation, the Healthy Terminals Act that would provide staff with meaningful benefits and protections — much of which they say they did not have access to while working during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, majority of the employees are Black, Brown and immigrant workers, who already have been disproportionately affected by the novel coronavirus.

Local 32BJ members protest outside of JFK terminal 5 for a new contract and health care. Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

“Yesterday, justice was served, and our country took a major step in the right direction,” said SEIU 32BJ President Kyle Bragg on Wednesday, referring to the trial of Derek Chauvin. “However, we know that in order to achieve true racial justice, we must continue to fight for economic justice, healthcare justice, and dignity and respect Black and Brown workers deserve. It’s unconscionable to think that these contractors are trying to get in the way of Black and Brown frontline workers receiving healthcare.”

Tensions are high since airline employees are fed up with the lack of care they say their employers have for their health and safety. All their bargaining chips are on the table, and if an agreement is not met soon, they will strike affecting operations within three airports.

The airline industry has received $65 billion in federal bailout funds with the CARES Act, and 32BJ airport workers are saying it’s time to put that money toward healthcare justice and equity.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams speaks to 32 BJ Local members who are fighting for a new contract at JFK. They want health care and a new contract. Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

“I stand with the 32BJ airport workers as they fight for a fair contract. Our frontline workers — who are disproportionately Black and Brown — have sacrificed so much during this pandemic. They deserve robust health coverage and a full suite of good benefits. Let’s get this done,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

Many of these workers have helped keep the cabin and terminals clean during the pandemic, while others put their lives at risk to handle baggage and hold their post as security officers, wheelchair attendants, and skycaps. They say that they cannot protect passengers without first protecting themselves.

In addition, many of these jobs are subcontracted and have been the first unit to begin bargaining since the COVID-19 onset.

Members of Local BJ 32 protest outside JFK airport. Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

Discussions began virtually on March 4 and workers have been pushing for racial and healthcare justice in their contract negotiations. Their current contract expired on April 1, and they are set to have another meeting this Friday to continue bargaining measures.

As of now, the employees have learned of a proposal to remove MLK Day as a paid holiday. A blow that many of those at the rally say to be disrespectful after the recent and rather turbulent year pushing for racial justice.

“I risked myself, my family to do my job throughout the pandemic,” said Cristina Mendez, a LaGuardia terminal cleaner, as she addressed a sea of over 250 32BJ SEIU essential airport workers at a rally on Wednesday. “And these employers are penny-pinching over our safety and healthcare.”

amNewYork Metro reached out to Port Authority of NY and NJ for comment, and is awaiting a response.