Employees of two security contractors at JFK airport voted this afternoon to go on strike December 20 if their employers don’t come to the table and address at least some of their complaints.
The timing of the strike, near the peak of the holiday travel season, could seriously snarl traffic out of JFK. It would be difficult for the contractors, Air Serv and Global Elite, to hire replacement workers, since it can take weeks and months for required security checks to go through.
The employees aren’t members of a union, but they are backed by the Service Employees International Union 32BJ.
“They’ve been trying to organize,” said Michael Allen, a 32BJ spokesman. “But the company has brought workers in to meetings, intimidated them, and tried to silence them.”
The workers say they want their employers to stop the intimidation, and also to provide better training, functional radios and battery-charging stations, and appropriate uniforms for cold and rainy weather for workers assigned to outdoor duties.
The Voice first wrote about the struggle of the security workers a year ago in our cover story Air Safety On The Cheap, which told the story of Air Serv employee Prince Jackson, who makes eight dollars an hour and survives by living in a single room in another family’s basement and gets much of his food from a church pantry.
Reached today Jackson said little has changed in the past year.
Jackson said the timing of the strike isn’t strategic.
“It just came to this point,” he said. “It’s sort of a coincidence really that it’s happening at this time.”
But Jackson acknowledged that the holiday strike timing could give the workers leverage. “We expect that there would be problem with some of the travelers,” he said. “It could possibly really cripple Delta airlines. Without us, you would have several exit doors that wouldn’t be covered.That could endanger the public the passengers. Anyone could enter through an exit door.”
Asked how non-union workers already making poverty wages would survive a strike, Jackson said he hopes it doesn’t come to that.
“We really don’t want to strike,” he said. “If we really did actually go out, it wouldn’t last long. A day maybe.”
Asked for comment, Air Serv issued the following statement.
“These issues have only just come to our attention this week. We are now in the process of reviewing them. As our policies make clear, we value employees’ input on matters of concern to them. Accordingly, we will be speaking with employees on these matters in the days and weeks to come.”
In its own statement, Global Elite disputed the workers’ claims and blamed the union:
Global Elite Group continues to maintain these are the actions of the service workers’ union that is making false statements and allegations and not that of our employees. Our employees are and have always been our most valuable asset. Every level of management is in constant dialogue with our trained and professional field staff. It is our policy to work with and provide all the necessary resources to our employees to ensure operations continue to run smoothly for the flying public. Our strong record of safety and security is proof of this. At Global Elite Group, safety and security is our top priority. We have built a proud reputation for our high quality of service in an industry that is heavily audited, inspected and regulated by the Transportation Security Administration.
You can watch Jackson tell more of his story in a union-produced video.