Beginning at 4:30 a.m. Thursday morning, dozens of LaGuardia Airport ramp and cabin workers walked off the job in a dramatic escalation of a years-long struggle for fair wages and safe working conditions at one of the nation’s busiest airports.
The workers, who are represented by 32BJ SEIU, say they are going on a 24-hour strike because they are fed up with their employer, Swissport USA. They say the company has committed repeated acts of retaliation, interrogations, and other unfair labor practices in response to employee organizing.
“We have had it! We have had enough of Swissport USA’s culture of intimidation and retaliation when we speak up about our conditions at work,” Jonathan Q. Rodriguez, a Swissport USA Ramp Agent said in a statement. “Today, we took action with a strike.”
The LaGuardia strike is just one part of a coordination labor stoppage by Swissport workers at Newark Liberty, Washington Dulles, and Boston Logan Airports. They are demanding that the company end its retaliatory tactics, increase wages, and respect workplace safety.
Across the country, Swissport workers have been sounding the alarm about the myriad of health and safety issues they say they have been forced to endure. This past April, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health listed Swissport as one of its Dirty Dozen unsafe employers in the country.
Since 2013, the company has been cited 35 times by The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for workplace safety violations. Between 2017 and 2019, Swissport accumulated over $6,000 in OSHA violations for unsafe work conditions. Last month, OSHA announced it would be opening a workplace safety investigation against Swissport.
Swissport USA is a Swiss-owned multi-national aviation services contractor that handles hospital, cleaning, and cargo handling services. In North America, Swissport can be found at close to a hundred airports and is one of the largest contractors with the major U.S. airlines. At LaGuardia, the company employs nearly 140 workers.
The workers at LaGuardia, many of whom are immigrants, who earn roughly minimum wage and have spent the last year demanding management to improve conditions on the job. One cabin cleaner, Chad Infiesta, who spoke to Documented in February, described being drenched in human feces after being asked to clean the plane bathroom without the proper safety equipment. After he spoke out publicly, Infiesta was fired.
According to the union, on December 7th, 2022, five workers filed complaints with New York City’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, alleging that the company did not honor the workers’ accrued sick time. A month later, the union said that those five workers who filed the complaints were suspended in addition to three others who spoke out at a rally.
In January 2023, SEIU 32BJ filed a charge with Region 29 of the National Labor Relations Board regarding repeated threats, interrogations, suspensions, and firings. The case is still pending and currently under investigation.
In a statement, a Swissport spokesperson denied any allegation of unfair labor practices and stated that they “fully comply with applicable labor regulations, and provide competitive wages and benefits.”
However, John Santos, SEIU Local 32BJ Secretary-Treasurer, believes that the company has left them with no other choice but to strike.
The workers “believe that this company has created an unsafe workplace dominated by a toxic culture of intimidation and retaliation,” he said. “They believe that only a strike would force Swissport USA to understand the magnitude of the issue.”