At my job as a cleaner for Airway Cleaners, a contractor for American Airlines at JFK Airport, I make $7.90 an hour with no benefits. It takes two of my paychecks to cover just the electricity bill. By the time I pay daycare for my daughters and buy a metro pass I have nothing left. Which means, I am juggling the bills for the other expenses. Seeing what bill I could afford not to pay until the next month.
Low pay is not the only problem. One night at work, after carrying one of those garbage bags, my back was in so much pain. I was incapacitated for the rest of the night. It’s been a nightmare trying to recover, especially with no healthcare benefits or paid sick days.
For too long, contractors hired by airlines and terminal operators have been getting away with paying poverty wages. Most of us get few or no paid holidays, vacation time and sick days. Like we do every year, the baggage handlers, wheelchair pushers, security officers and cleaners who make the airport run will work this holiday season to make sure the travelers get home safely. But we need time off to spend with our families, too.
We’ve been struggling for over a year to get these contractors to do the right thing, but we’ve gotten nowhere. The Port Authority has the power to make things better for all of us. Thats why we are asking the Port to take a first step in the right direction: give all of us Martin Luther King Day off. January 20 is a federal holiday that most workers like us cant enjoy with their families.
Dr. King died supporting Memphis sanitation workers who were working under deplorable conditions and making what would be $11.41 per hour today. 46 years after Dr. King’s assassination, most airport service workers still work under deplorable conditions. Thats why we are taking a stand.
There are thousands of workers at New Yorks airports and across the country who are in the same boat as I am. This is no way to live. We deserve dignity. We deserve respect. Please support us. Its time to honor Dr. King properly. Its time for a day to dream.
The author is a terminal cleaner for Airway Cleaners at JFK Airport and a mother of two.
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