On the day before Thanksgiving, about 40 workers and their supporters rallied for higher wages, better working conditions and benefits at a LaGuardia Airport parking lot.
Some workers were fasting to bring attention to their cause.
Simone Melville, who works at John F. Kennedy Airport with the subcontractor Eulen America, had gone nearly a full day without eating. She said fasting was like a regular day for her because she hardly has time to eat.
“We deserve better wages to support our families,” Melville said. “We’re not making enough money to have Thanksgiving dinner with family.”
She said there’s a lot of pressure in her job, and not having job security is one reason.
“It’s an uneasy feeling to come into your job and wonder if I’ll be fired,” she added.
Jean Timmer, an airport worker with Ultimate Aircraft, which serves JetBlue, said higher wages are important for things like groceries and childcare.
“$10.10 is below the poverty rate. We need $15 an hour,” he said. “We all have families to raise.”
Timmer said workers also need union membership for better job security and benefits, like medical insurance.
Two elected officials attended the rally to show support for those fasting. Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez spoke passionately about treating workers with respect and dignity.
“Shame on us when we allow for this type of indignity to happen in the most powerful country and the richest country in the world. It’s just unbelievable,” Velazquez said. “Thanksgiving is about families. Unfortunately, working families that make our airlines and airports run are too often treated unjustly.”
Velazquez reiterated that $10 an hour is not enough for workers to raise a family, and called for $15 an hour.
“While workers are shortchanged, the airline industry is posting $8 billion in profits annually,” she said. “It’s morally wrong, and it must be challenged now.”
Velazquez also defended unions and the right for workers to organize.
“Just as workers need higher wages, they also need the ability to organize,” she said. “This is a basic fundamental right in a democracy, and it is a right we intend to stand up for.” State Senator Jose Peralta, whose district includes LaGuardia Airport, also spoke at the rally. He called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to get involved and raise the wage for airport workers.
“We call upon the governor to get involved in this fight because he can shift the dynamics,” Peralta said. “We call upon him to make sure this is a priority, that we all understand that $15 an hour is a priority.”
He added that with the airport about to undergo a multi-billion dollar revitalization, the money should also go toward airport workers.
“If you’re going to invest $4 billion, wouldn’t you want to make sure you invest in the workers that are the backbone of this airport?” Peralta said.
Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU, which provided purple shirts that read “#AirportsFast” for supporters, said this fast was one of many actions and strikes across 16 cities.
“We are not alone and we are not small,” Figueroa said. “Our work is just beginning. We will win this campaign.”