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Friday, January 17, 2014

NYT Reports On New York City's Underpaid Airport Workers

Posted by on Fri, Jan 17, 2014 at 2:22 PM

Rare is the news story that makes your blood boil and run cold simultaneously:

This 52-year-old with deep circles under his eyes pushes wheelchairs at Terminal B at La Guardia Airport. He made $7.25 an hour until his company, PrimeFlight, cut him to $6.15. Why, he asked. Sometimes you will get a tip, they explained. He recently lifted a 350-pound passenger. His back locked up and he walks askew. His arms grow numb from tendinitis. “My life is not easy but they tell me there are a thousand out there who would take my job.” He shrugs. “My story, it is the story of a lot of people who work here.”

There are 15,000 Mr. Echeverris at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s three major airports, those sprawling empires of tarmac. They scrub toilets, climb into baggage bins and under seats, restock food, haul bags and polish bathroom doors and seatbelts to a glinting shine.... [The] workers who labor at these taxpayer-subsidized airports. Workers such as these once worked directly for the airlines and had unions, vacations and pensions. Now they are perfect 21st-century employees, which is to say they are like cars stripped to their ball bearings. They have no benefits, no vacation, no raises.

Go read the whole thing. It's absolutely infuriating—particularly the slimy spokesperson for United Airlines, Meghan McCarthy, who insists that the airlines, which used to employ (and pay somewhat decent wages to) the people who cleaned their airplanes, restocked food, and hauled bags, have no control whatsoever over the wages that are now paid to people like Mr. Echeverris by private contractors. (And that's bullshit, as the reporter notes: "If a union successfully organizes one company, the airlines switch to a nonunion contractor." So the airlines are actively driving down the wages of airport employees.) And it doesn't have to be this way at La Guardia, JFK, or Seatac:

Thirteen years ago, San Francisco International Airport raised the minimum wage for all airport employees, including wheelchair operators, baggage handlers, and ramp and airline ground workers. They get a minimum of $12.93 per hour, with 12 paid days off per year, and health coverage from employers.

San Francisco International Airport proves that it really doesn't have to be this way—an airport and the airlines and their contractors can pay (or be forced to pay) wheelchair operators like Mr. Echeverris a decent wage without the airport shutting down. (Cutting the man's pay to $6.15 because he might get a tip once in a while?!? I fly a lot and I've never once seen a granny in a wheelchair tip the poor bastard who pushed her through the airport.) That's the part that made my blood boil.

Now here's the part that makes my blood run cold: What about the security risk?

If I was paid slave wages to work at an airport—never had a raise, no health insurance, not one fucking day off, my measly hourly rate slashed one day because I might get a tip once a year—I would hate the airport, I would hate the airlines, and I would hate every last motherfucker in the airport who brushed past me in a hurry to board a flight. And if someone came along and offered me enough money to, say, fly home and take care of my dying wife in exchange for access to the airport (Mr. Echeverris's wife is dying of cancer in Columbia)... or access to the airplanes... or for information about accessing the secure areas of the airport... I would be sorely tempted to take the money. Because why not? No one at the airport—no one who runs the airport, no one who runs the airlines, no one who runs past me to get on a plane—gives a flying fuck about me. Why should I give a flying fuck about them? So we shouldn't be shocked when shit like this happens.

And far worse could happen. Any terrorist group that wanted to take down a US airport—or hijack a few planes—would be smart to look for recruits among the army of low-paid workers who are treated like garbage by the airlines and the airports. One or two of the 15,000 people currently being worked to death at New York City's airports—or right here at our fucking airport—just might be angry and resentful enough to help 'em out.


Comments (18) RSS

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At what point will we find qualified people to elect to the Port Commissioners positions? That is the worst run elected local government in our entire state. They have total authority to set the minimum wage at SeaTac, but they refuse to do it. I keep voting for new blood every time they come up for re-election, but nothing seems to fix the problems there.
Posted by SeattleKim on January 17, 2014 at 3:03 PM · Report this
When do we start staging protests at their meetings? Shut them down. Demand that Seatac pay its workers the same rate SFO does. Dump "lost" luggage on the steps of their offices.
Posted by Dan Savage on January 17, 2014 at 3:10 PM · Report this
And let Alaska Airlines know that we'll be flying other carriers as long as they are going into court contesting the Seatac vote. They are among the worst of the bunch when it comes to outsourcing labor and lowering the wage floor.

Thank you for this screed Dan!
Posted by gnossos on January 17, 2014 at 3:25 PM · Report this
raku 4
Thank you for being supportive of $15/hr minimum wage, Dan. I know you've been very successful and you'd be impacted financially directly or indirectly by higher minimum wages. It's wonderful to have you on the side of low paid workers.
Posted by raku on January 17, 2014 at 3:27 PM · Report this
No wonder shit gets stolen out of luggage…they need to supplement their income. They get caught and fired? No biggie, they can make more at any other job.
This is the same reason why you pay your cops well. You make the loss of the job a bigger deterrent than any profits from being corrupt would compensate for. As an example of this look to our southern neighbor and see how upstanding their underpaid cops are.
Posted by SPG on January 17, 2014 at 3:35 PM · Report this
You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me 6
Dan, honest question: Does The Stranger provide a living wage of at least $15 an hour, health care benefits and 12 paid days off to all of its employees and only contract with printers and other service providers who do the same?

If not, why not?
Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me on January 17, 2014 at 3:37 PM · Report this
James6 7
It seems to be the same thing with airport and airline industry jobs everywhere. I recently saw a job advertised for a "terminal ambassador"--sounds simple right? Actually the job required pretty much all the typical work of a person employed by an airline at the airport. Fair enough. But they also required applicants to be fluent in three languages, and to be willing to do the job for an unbelievable $11 per hour. What a fucking insult.
Posted by James6 on January 17, 2014 at 4:03 PM · Report this
While still unfair, my granny who gets wheeled through airports always tips.
Posted by CarlMcCarl on January 17, 2014 at 4:58 PM · Report this
kk in seattle 9
It is true that the airlines individually have to slash costs as much as they can because most are perpetually on the verge of bankruptcy and flyers can use powerful search engines to compare costs. However, it is also true that the publicly owned airports can control this by requiring all contractors to pay a living wage. Only government can solve this problem. That's why a government imposed minimum wage works.
Posted by kk in seattle on January 17, 2014 at 7:09 PM · Report this
TVDinner 10
"Worked to death." That remark stands out so clearly, because it's so true of the majority of low-wage jobs. That we tolerate even one person in our rich as fuck country living like that is an outrage. That millions suffer like Mr. Echeverris is fucking criminal.

The sin upon all our heads.
Posted by TVDinner http:// on January 17, 2014 at 7:35 PM · Report this

bravo! bravo!

brave words!!
Posted by it can just be our little joke. on January 17, 2014 at 9:46 PM · Report this
@6 is correct. When The Stranger commits to $15/hr through its entire workforce then I will believe in businesses run on a margin being able to afford it. Until then, "Matthew 7:5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye"
Posted by ChefJoe on January 17, 2014 at 11:00 PM · Report this
#9, the airlines are raking it in these days charging a fee for any little thing.

Thank you Dan for bringing this to light.
Posted by kerala on January 18, 2014 at 12:40 AM · Report this
Dan, my biggest pet peeve is people who misspell "ColOmbia" the country. "ColUmbia" is a University, a brand, and a city. "ColOmbia" is the country.

Posted by dre on January 18, 2014 at 6:45 AM · Report this
At some point, we in the U.S. are going to have to realize that flying is an appallingly wasteful and expensive way to travel, and that our expectations of being able to fly 3,000 miles for $300 are ridiculous and entitled.

Air travel in general is subsidized by corporate welfare to the airlines and the abuse of the lowest-paid workers in the industry. Participating in an abusive industry as a consumer is destructive too. Quit fucking flying, people. "But I have to fly!" No, you really don't, you've just been trained to think it's affordable and even necessary, when it's is neither of those things.
Posted by happyhedonist on January 18, 2014 at 9:31 AM · Report this
I've been concerned about the dangers of that potential terrorist infiltration angle for awhile. My cousin drives a soda delivery truck at SeaTac and he says that the inspections are cursory at best.

His exact words were, 'I could have a Dodge Viper back there.' He also said that he frequently gets calls from airport vendors needing soda and he just puts it on a hand truck and runs it into the terminal, pretty much circumventing security altogether.

Gotta love security theatre. Remember, it's more important to feel secure than to be secure.
Posted by CPN on January 18, 2014 at 9:34 AM · Report this
@15 - Yep. By being consumers, we are participating in whatever evils the producer is engaged in. Every time we buy something, we are voting for that product, that brand, and everything the corporation that produces it does.

You may not be able to personally stop something from happening, but you sure can stop participating in it.
Posted by Barbara on January 18, 2014 at 7:23 PM · Report this
@15, when my company tells me to show up at a meeting that's more than a 5 hour drive away, I pretty much have to fly. So yes, people sometimes have to fly to keep their jobs.

Now in my personal life, I avoid it as much as possible. It's a miserable experience, and pricey to boot.
Posted by abrock_ca on January 20, 2014 at 5:20 PM · Report this

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