Newark, N.J.— U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) last night met with aggrieved workers from an American Airlines subcontractor under investigation for multiple labor violations, pledging his support for their efforts to unionize and announcing he will reintroduce federal legislation to crack down on such unscrupulous subcontracting firms.
Booker sat down with workers employed by Eulen America, a Spain-based contractor that is under investigation for complaints of wage theft, discrimination, health and safety issues, and paid sick leave violations. According to 32BJ SEIU, Eulen workers who have tried to unionize have faced retaliation, surveillance, and threats.
“You have no stronger partner in the Senate for fighting against the despicable and pervasive exploitation of subcontracted workers in the airline industry,” Booker said. “We need more federal oversight of these subcontracting firms, especially bad actors like Eulen, and stricter safeguards in place to prevent abuse. And in order to achieve these goals, you need the right to organize”
“I’m with you in this fight,” Booker added.
Eulen America is just one example of the pervasive trend among airlines of outsourcing much of their labor costs to contractors and temp workers rather than hiring direct employees. Good-paying jobs that were once provided by the airlines, such as wheelchair attendants, baggage handlers, and caterers, are now contracted out, often to the lowest bidder. Between 1991 and 2015, the portion of workers in the airline industry employed by subcontractors and contractors roughly doubled.
This shift towards outsourcing has a direct impact on workers’ wages, with a recent study finding that 37 percent of all airport workers make less than $15 per hour, with average weekly wages falling by 14 percent from 1991 to 2011. In other industries too, outsourced and subcontracted workers’ wages suffered compared to their non-contracted peers, including up to a 17 percent dip in wages for subcontracted janitors and cleaners and an 8-24 percent cut for security guards.
Further, outsourcing allows airlines like American, and other major corporations to shield themselves from responsibility for rampant violations of federal labor law incurred by their contractors.
The group of workers, joined by 32BJ SEIU Vice President and NJ State Director, Kevin Brown, discussed with Booker these unjust labor practices and their efforts to organize, and called on Eulen to follow the law and respect its employees.
“The claims made against Eulen are unacceptable wrongdoings that a company can commit. Here in Newark, we respect the rights of working people, companies like American Airline’s subcontractor Eulen need to learn that when you mess with working people, there will be consequences,” said Kevin Brown, Vice President and NJ State Director of 32BJ SEIU, the largest property service union in the country which represents 14,000 airport workers in New York and New Jersey.
“We’re grateful to Senator Booker for taking the time to hear our experiences first-hand. He’s been a strong and steadfast leader not only in our fight to unionize, but in our efforts to achieve a higher minimum wage and crack down on bad acting subcontracting firms like Eulen. We deserve basic workplace rights in exchange for the work we do to support passengers every day, and Senator Booker understands that,” said Adassa Douglas, former Eulen cabin cleaner at EWR airport. “We hope this sends a clear message to Eulen that we will continue fighting for our rights to be respected.”
Booker’s bill, the Airline Accountability Act, would ban federal employees from flying on airlines that have either committed egregious labor law violations themselves or have contracted with vendors that have incurred, and failed to rectify, serious worker or labor infractions. Booker will reintroduce the bill when the Senate returns from its October recess.
Booker has been a strong and vocal leader in the U.S. Senate for the rights of airport workers. He was a key partner in successfully pushing the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to raise the hourly minimum wage for workers at airports under its jurisdiction to $19 an hour by 2023 - Booker formally wrote the Port Authority urging them to make such a change and also joined airport workers for a rally in 2018 to advance the cause. He’s also written to nearly a dozen major airline CEOs, including American Airlines, urging them to increase the minimum wage and improve working conditions for subcontracted workers. And earlier this year, in May, hesent a letter to Delta Airlines, criticizing the company for its anti-union tactics.