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Workers for Logan contractors demand better pay, more respect

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  October 21, 2011 12:23 PM

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Janeth Quiroz.jpg

(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)

Former airport worker Janeth Quiroz wept as she described her experiences as a wheelchair operator.

Workers from several contractors serving Logan International Airport described long hours, low pay, and hostile work environments at a public forum organized by a coalition of labor unions and community organizations.

The meeting of the newly formed Lift Off Coalition on Tuesday attracted more than 100 workers and their supporters, including city and state officials, to Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church. It followed a hearing last week of the Boston City Council’s Committee on Labor, Youth Affairs, and Human Rights, where At-Large City Councilors Felix G. Arroyo and Stephen J. Murphy pledged to support employees of airport contractors in their fight for a living wage.

Single mother Janeth Quiroz wiped away tears as she described the six years she worked as a wheelchair operator for a company that provides passenger assistance and cleaning services at the airport.

Quiroz said that after several years on the job her hourly wage dropped from $8 to $7.50, just a quarter above the federal minimum wage, and $21 was deducted each shift on the assumption that she received tips from those she assisted, whether or not anyone actually tipped her.

Besides the low pay, Quiroz said she had been singled out for bullying because she supported unionizing workers. She said a manager named Ronnie told her he wanted to hit her because she had made him angry.

“I said, ‘Fine, hit me,’ ” she explained through a translator. He did not hit her, but Quiroz said her manager reduced her hours twice and reassigned her to work in isolation in baggage control, saying someone else would cover her job as a wheelchair operator. Finally, she quit.

Rocio Saenz, president of SEIU Local 615, said the kind of wages that contractor paid Quiroz and the treatment she received were the reason the Lift Off Coalition was created.

“We are all here because we believe and we insist that when you work hard, you deserve a good living, a decent future, and a decent life,” Saenz said. Though airline fees are on the rise, she said, there has been no increase in the wages of workers who support the travel industry.

SEIU Local 615 represents 17,000 property services workers in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire, many of whom live in poverty and must work two or sometimes three jobs to make ends meet, Saenz said. She promised the non-union airport workers the organization would support their fight until “we see that every worker can have one good job, not two or three.”

Other organizations in the Lift Off Coalition include Airport Workers United, the North Shore Labor Council, Neighbors United for a Better East Boston, the Chelsea Collaborative, Latinos Unidos en Massachusetts, and MassUniting, itself a coalition of community and religious groups, organized labor, and individuals.

Many at the meeting signed a pledge calling on the airlines and the Massachusetts Port Authority, which owns Logan, to “improve the wages and working conditions at Logan Airport, to treat workers with dignity and respect, and to become responsible stakeholders in our communities.”

But a Massport spokesman said the authority requires its contractors to pay “prevailing wages” and that these issues are between the workers and their employers.

“The workers are not Massport employees,” Matthew Brelis, director of media relations for the authority, wrote in an e-mail. “Wages are a matter primarily between employer and employee and Massport, as the airport operator, is not involved in those negotiations. Questions about current and future wages are best addressed to the employer.”

No elected officials attended the coalition meeting, but staff from the offices of Mayor Thomas M. Menino, State Representative Carlo P. Basile, and State Senator Anthony Petruccelli came to show their support for the workers.

Ernani J. DeAraujo, the East Boston neighborhood coordinator from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, said Menino had a long history of standing behind labor and had asked him to attend the meeting in person as a show of solidarity.

“The mayor really wants to lend his voice to this,” DeAraujo said. He said City Councilor Salvatore LaMattina, an East Boston native who represents the community on the council, had hoped to attend the meeting to show his support as well, but was unable to do so.

One worker at the meeting, who asked that her identity be withheld because she fears being fired, said she had started working at the airport only a month ago and had been told up front that she would get $9 an hour with no raises, no benefits, no personal or sick time. She will get one week of vacation each year after she completes her first year and two weeks if she stays for five years.

She said her employer treats her with no respect, frequently humiliating her by reprimanding her in front of travelers.

“I think it’s not fair,” she told the crowd in heavily accented English. “With your help, we will get good respect like we’re supposed to get to do our jobs.”

Email Jeremy C. Fox at jeremycfox@gmail.com.
Follow Jeremy C. Fox on Twitter: @jeremycfox.
Follow East Boston on Twitter: @EastBostonNews.

crowd at workers rally.jpg

(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)

A crowd of more than 100 came to the Lift Off Coalition meeting in the basement of Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church.

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