(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)
Lawmakers on Beacon Hill today heard requests for better pay and benefits from workers for Logan Airport contractors, and several legislators pledged their support.
“Whatever I can do in my capacity as a state rep, I certainly will,'' said Representative Martin J. Walsh, a Dorchester Democrat who is also secretary-treasurer of the Boston Building Trades Council. "Whatever I can do in my capacity as a labor official, I certainly will. And if there’s a fight to be fought, well, I’m with you on the fight.”
More than 100 people packed a hearing room in the State House at noon today, most of them workers for Logan contractors and supporters from the Lift Off Coalition. The group was formed last year by labor unions and community groups to fight for workers who supply cleaning, security, and passenger services for contractors working both for the airlines and directly for the airport, which is owned by the Massachusetts Port Authority.
At a Massport board meeting two weeks ago, state Transportation Secretary Richard A. Davey told workers the quasi-public authority would investigate their allegations and do what it could to help. Some lawmakers made similar promises at today’s forum, sponsored by Walsh and fellow State Representatives Carlo P. Basile, Linda Dorcena Forry, and Kathi-Anne Reinstein, along with State Senators Sal N. DiDomenico, Thomas McGee, and Anthony Petrucelli, all Democrats.
Petrucelli, an East Boston native, said that with increased awareness of the nation’s growing income inequality, it was natural that legislators like himself would come to the support of low-wage workers.
“This is a very easy issue, I think, for a lot of my colleagues and I to want to lend a hand and try to move the ball down the field with,” he said. “This … is a perfect issue for some of us to be able to weigh in and make a difference on, to try as best we can to close that gap.”
Walsh and Forry, also of Dorchester, found common ground with the workers, most of them immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean. Walsh spoke of his parents immigrating from Ireland, Forry of her parents’ immigration from Haiti. Forry told workers she understands their struggles to create a better life.
“We want our families and our workers here in Massachusetts to be able to sustain themselves and their families,” she said. “And in order to do that, it is essential that we have open dialogue both here at the State House, as well as between workers and contractors.”
The dialogue today included both workers who described the difficulties of working for low pay, without benefits or sick time, and advocates who said that implementing policies to protect workers would help the state’s bottom line by reducing the need for financial assistance and government-funded health care for workers.
Yocelin Ratchell, 46, said she works in baggage service for G2 Secure Staff under a contract with American Airlines and wears an American Airlines uniform, but her situation is far different from that of other workers wearing the same uniform.
“We don’t get no sick days, no paid vacations,” she said. In addition to the lack of benefits, Ratchell said she makes $12 an hour — the top of the pay scale for her position — while unionized workers for the airline make $16. “I only wear the uniform but I don’t get the benefits that they get.”
G2 did not immediately return calls requesting comment for this story. An American Airlines spokesman said the airline hired contractors based on their ability to a job economically and was not involved in its contractors’ labor relations.
Through a translator, Chelsea resident Heledora Carabello, 47, said she has worked at Logan for a decade. She said unions had worked for years to create decent wages for janitors at the airport, but that Airway Cleaners, a non-union contractor, would soon take over work in the cargo area previously done by a unionized contractor.
Airway Cleaners, she said, pays janitors only $8 per hour, with no insurance or other benefits for workers.
“Workers at non-union companies have told us that they are being threatened for trying to improve their working lives,” she said. “So Massport should create a policy that will protect workers, enable them to support their families and communities, and give them the right to form a union if they choose to.”
There was no answer at the phone number listed for Airway Cleaners.
Anastasia Christman, a senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, said the disproportionate growth of low-wage jobs was slowing down the nation’s economic recovery, and that improving jobs at the airport would benefit the community without creating additional burdens on taxpayers.
Christman said it’s dangerous to have workers in safety positions who are paid so little that they must work more than one job to make ends meet, sometimes working 80 hours per week. She advocated that Massport create a policy that would include the same pay, benefits, and working conditions standards for everyone who works at the airport, regardless of who their employer is.
“Raising the standard and having one policy in place that would cover all of these workers is a way both to make sure that everyone, their conditions improve at the same time, and that safety and service are kept high,” she said. “It’s critical to have one policy to cover all workers to make sure that we are not solidifying the inequalities that already exist in these jobs.”
She said four airports in California had already adopted similar standards, despite forceful opposition. She said ongoing research and assessment of the policies had found that they reduced turnover, did little to increase passenger fares, hadn’t adversely affected the airports, and had actually encouraged more employers who do pay fare wages and offer benefits to bid on contracts.
Bryn Lloyd-Bollard, a researcher for SEIU Local 615, said the workers’ situations affect not just them and their families, but “everyone who pays taxes in Massachusetts.” Between 2007 and 2009, he said, taxpayers paid more than $6.2 million to cover the costs of health insurance for employees of Logan service contractors.
“It’s great that here in Massachusetts we have the health-care reform law which gives access to all of these people who need health insurance, but that shouldn’t be an excuse for these airline contractors to renege on their responsibility to provide adequate care for their employees,” said Lloyd-Bollard, 28. “And I think that’s especially true at a public facility such as Logan Airport, where these contractors have a privilege of doing business.”
(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)