JFK, LaGuardia, Newark airport employees declare strike

New York’s “summer of hell” now includes airports.

Some 700 airport workers who provide curbside and terminal services for major airlines at all three New York travel hubs went on strike at 9 p.m. Tuesday — potentially snarling flights for United Airlines, American Airlines and JetBlue.

Hundreds of wheelchair attendants, skycaps, baggage handlers, customer service agents, cabin cleaners, terminal cleaners and shuttle drivers walked off their jobs at JFK, LaGuardia and Newark Airports in a labor dispute with their employer, PrimeFlight Inc, which subcontracts their services to other airlines.

The workers voted earlier in the week to walk off the job over what they allege are unfair labor practices from PrimeFlight Inc.

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The strike started at 9 p.m. with a picket and rally at Newark’s Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, outside Terminal C.

The job action will continue Wednesday with rallies at LaGuardia and Newark airports, according to 32BJ Service Employees International Union, which represents the 700 striking PrimeFlight Inc. workers.

A picket line will be set up at 6 a.m. at LaGuardia, organizers said, outside Terminal B for American Airlines departures. The rolling job actions will continue over the next three days around all three airports throughout the day, organizers said, with appearances at LaGuardia at noon by several elected city officials.

PrimeFlight Inc has refused to bargain a contract with the workers that service major New York airlines, according to the union 32BJ.

PrimeFlight Inc has refused to bargain a contract with the workers that service major New York airlines, according to the union 32BJ.

(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Another big rally and picket line will kick off Thursday at JFK at 1:30 p.m. by Terminal 5, organizers said.

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The strike vote among PrimeFlight Inc. workers came after months of unsuccessful attempts to collectively bargain a union contract, 32BJ said.

Over the past several years more than 8,000 New York region airport workers have launched successful organizing campaigns and through 32BJ negotiated better wages, working conditions and benefits through airport employers.

The PrimeFlight Inc. workers are the latest to try and carve out a deal with their employer, 32BJ said. But PrimeFlight’s refusal to recognize 32BJ as the union’s bargaining representative forced workers to file a National Labor Relations Board complaint.

The NLRB found that the company had violated the law and was legally obligated to negotiate job standards with workers at JFK, who first initiated the charge. PrimeFlight employees created a package of wages, scheduling, seniority, workloads, health and safety regulations and more to bring to the bargaining table, the union said. But it took a ruling from a federal judge to get PrimeFlight to the table — and even then, talks went nowhere, 32BJ said.

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It’s not clear how much the strike — which could stretch beyond the initial three days workers have planned — will impact flight traffic. But many of the PrimeFlight Inc. workers who service United, American and JetBlue airlines have special training and security clearance that allows them into sensitive airport areas, the union said. 

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