Passenger-service workers including baggage handlers and wheelchair agents staged a strike at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Monday, saying the company they work for is violating their right to organize.
Workers for Eulen America, a subcontractor for American Airlines, have been organizing at JFK and Newark airports. According to Rob Hill, vice president at Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, the workers are demanding their employer treat them with respect.
“They’re being faced with intimidation, surveillance, threats. Supervisors are walking into bathrooms and questioning about the union,” Hill said. “And people have said enough is enough and they walked off the job.”
Following a similar action in June, Eulen America said it has no objection if its employees want to unionize.
But Hill said the company appears to have different standards for different airports. He noted 32BJ has been organizing airport workers for more than seven years.
“Thirty-five companies have agreed to let workers have a union. That’s 10,000 people,” he said. “And here’s Eulen, which is a Spanish company that is union in Spain, union throughout Latin America, saying in New York City and Newark workers can’t have a union.”
The striking workers at JFK were joined by local and state elected officials who urged Eulen to respect the workers’ right to organize.
Hill said Eulen has a history of workplace violations, not only in New York and Newark, but in Miami and Washington, D.C., as well. And the company is facing lawsuits by former employees alleging sexual harassment and discrimination based on age and race.
“The point here is to say, essentially, we’re not going to be harassed, we’re not going to be intimidated. We’re going to come together,” he said. “And threatening one worker means we’re all going to take action.”