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A group of airport workers at John F. Kennedy International Airport walked off the job allegedly because of improprieties by their employer.
Workers for American Airlines contractor Eulen America walked off the job last month protesting their employer’s alleged wage theft violations. They also demanded that the contractor follow New York State’s paid sick leave laws and provide legally required laundry allowances.
“The challenge workers faced in their personal lives could be even more acute because they accrue one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours they work,” stated Eulen baggage runner Levelle Lindsey. “Forcing them to use up the time they carried over from the previous year meant that, in case of emergency, they won’t have the time to use immediately. Isn’t this law supposed to make it easier for workers like me to take sick leave when we need it, not when it’s convenient for our employer to have us use the time?”
“We work hard to support travelers and all we are asking is that our employer follows the law and respect us,” added Eulen America passenger verification agent Whitney Moore in a statement. “When we didn’t have enough wheelchair agents and managers asked workers to push two wheelchairs at the same time because we were severely shorthanded, we did it. I don’t get a uniform allowance on my paycheck and I still come to work clean and ready to do my job. The least Eulen can do is follow the law.”
The walkout was part of a bigger walkout by Eulen employers around the country, including Miami, JFK, Fort Lauderdale and Reagan National airports.
In May, Eulen workers filed complaints with the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection because employers told them in March that they need to use up all of the paid sick leave time they accrued last year by the end of the month. According to workers, managers told them to “use it or lose it.” Similar stories could be heard around the country.
When asked by reporters about working conditions at Miami International Airport, Eulen America CEO Xavier Rabell said, “I am not the right person to ask. I am the CEO.”
This didn’t sit well with 32BJ SEIU Vice President and Director of Organizing Rob Hill.
“From New York to Miami, Eulen America needs to abide by the law and treat workers with dignity and respect,” stated Hill. “At airports up and down the east coast today, Eulen workers are striking to show that lawbreaking and disrespect will no longer be tolerated. Eulen workers are not going to take these abuses lying down. Eulen has responded to workers’ organizing efforts with threats, intimidation, retaliation, and surveillance.
“The airlines that hire Eulen, such as American Airlines, continue to ignore their contractor’s irresponsible conduct. American should use its influence to ensure that Eulen no longer mistreats its workers at America’s airports. There is no place for this at our nation’s airports.”
After the 24-hour work stoppage, Eulen employees went back to their jobs without any issues. Under federal law, Eulen America had to let their workers back in after a legally protected strike.
During the strike, Eulen employees held two public events where elected officials showed their support. In attendance were New York State Sen. Kevin Thomas, New York State Assembly Members Brian Barnwell, Edward Braunstein and Michelle Solages and New York City Council Member Donovan Richards.
“The way Eulen America conducts itself at JFK International Airport is hurting Queens neighborhoods,” stated Donovan Richards, Council member for the 31st District of the New York City Council. “We can’t have working families being mistreated or having their rights violated by their own employer. Eulen America has an obligation to treat these workers with dignity and respect and to obey city and state laws. This is why I am here today supporting these workers exercising their rights to be heard.”