LaGuardia Airport’s $8 billion facelift may be nearing completion, but workers there say their labor issues have only worsened.
On Thursday afternoon, dozens of LaGuardia Airport workers employed by the major airline contractor Swissport USA, many of whom are immigrants, rallied outside the airport’s Marine Air Terminal to announce filing unfair practice labor charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
In addition to the NLRB charges for retaliation against union activists, 32BJ SEIU, the union representing the workers, also filed five complaints on Dec. 7 with the NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection against Swissport for violation of the City’s Paid Safe and Sick Leave Law.
Speaking to the crowd of workers during the rally, State Senator Jessica Ramos, Chair of the Committee on Labor and whose district includes LaGuardia Airport, publicly admonished Swissport’s treatment of its workers.
“I want to make sure that every airline knows that they should not be working with a company that is an actual sweatshop for our neighbors,” she said to a roar of applause. “The Port Authority should know that Swissport should either shape up or ship out. They are not welcome in the neighborhood if they are going to mistreat people of color.”
It was the second action to take place in the last several months. Last December, nearly 100 airport workers rallied outside LaGuardia to demand better working conditions. Since then, 32BJ SEIU says Swissport has suspended nearly a dozen ramp workers and cabin cleaners after they spoke out against the company.
Omar Ramirez, a 19-year-old Dominican Swissport cabin cleaner, said he was suspended three weeks ago after he spoke out in the Daily News about the poor working conditions. When he returned to work following the article’s publication, Ramirez claims that management called him into the office and began insulting him before indefinitely suspending him for a minor infraction.
“They called me a knucklehead, they called me names they’re not supposed to,” he said. “If you are a supervisor you’re supposed to be a professional. To call you names, it needs to stop now.”
As the sole breadwinner for his family, Ramirez said the last few weeks have been hard. The company has not informed him of his current employment status, and he fears he won’t be reinstated, he said. Meanwhile, his bills continue to pile up.
Former baggage handler Chad Infiesta, 36, has also struggled to pay his rent since being fired in December. In addition to handling baggage, like most Swissport workers, Infiesta says Swissport required him to pull double duty as an airplane cleaner. Infiesta claims he was fired the day after he protested his unsanitary working conditions.
In one instance, he said he was sprayed with human feces when he tried emptying out the plane bathrooms with Swissport’s faulty equipment.
“The whole hose came out and spewed all over me,” he said. “Piss, shit, towelettes — everything. Anything that went down the toilet, came out on me.”
Disgusted, he stormed off the plane and threw out his uniform. He claims that when he complained to management, their cavalier attitude was the final straw, and he decided to speak out against the company. “We are getting overworked and underpaid on a daily basis,” he said.
When requesting comment, a Swissport spokesperson denied any unfair labor practices or any violations of labor law, telling Documented that “In all the cities we operate in the United States, Swissport fully complies with operating permit requirements.”