(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)
The state’s secretary of transportation today told workers for Logan Airport contractors the Massachusetts Port Authority would investigate allegations of unsafe working conditions.
“You’ve got the commitment from this board that we will investigate what you brought to us today,” said Secretary Richard A. Davey, who also serves as chairman of Massport’s seven-member board of directors. “We will see what we can do to help you.”
The workers, almost all women and mostly immigrants from Latin America, are employed by a range of contractors that provide security, cleaning, and passenger services for the airport, including G2 Secure Staff, Huntleigh USA, Airway Cleaners, Superior Aircraft Services, and Flight Services & Systems. They allege that their employers pay low wages, arbitrarily cut workers’ hours, offer no benefits or sick time, and use intimidation to prevent unionization.
Though unable to join unions, the workers have support from Service Employees International Union Local 615, as well as community groups including Neighbors United for a Better East Boston and the Chelsea Collaborative. The workers have spoken out about their allegations at events including a public forum last October and a demonstration at Logan Airport in November.
More than two dozen workers, community members, and representatives from the union and the community groups attended today’s Massport board meeting, the first to include a public comment period as part of Davey’s pledge for greater openness at the quasi-public authority. Several workers described their experiences and frustrations working for airport contractors.
Yocelin Ratchell, 46, said she had worked for G2 Secure Staff for seven years answering phones, performing customer service, and handling baggage without health insurance or sick time.
“Our job is very difficult, and we don’t get paid for the benefits we need,” said Ratchell, a Roxbury resident.
Ghizlane Regragui, 34, said she was better off now that she works at G2, because the firm pays minimum wage. Her previous employer, another airport contractor, paid just $7.50 an hour.
Regragui, who lives in Revere, said her sister works for another contractor and doesn’t have it as good. Because her sister is a wheelchair assistant, she is paid less than minimum wage on the assumption that passengers will tip her for the service, but taxes eat into the tips she does get.
Regragui also said many of the wheelchairs are broken or malfunctioning, making them dangerous for passengers, but if a passenger is hurt the wheelchair assistant is blamed. She said many passengers requiring wheelchairs also have communicable diseases, but wheelchair operators are not given rubber gloves or other precautions to protect them from infection.
Maria Julia Barros, 61, said she had worked at the airport in several capacities over the last 14 years. In the past decade, she said, her pay has gone from $16 per hour to $12, then to $10, and finally to $9, making it hard to pay her mortgage and utilities.
“Job security is a very big concern for me because there are always so many changes taking place at the airport,” said Barros, who lives in Roxbury. “Recently, there have been a lot of layoffs, and employees’ hours have been cut.”
She said G2 continues hiring while cutting more experienced workers’ hours, often giving more hours to new employees.
G2 did not immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment on the allegations.
Speaking after the meeting, one airport worker said many others would like to speak out on these issues but were afraid they’d be fired.
David S. Mackey, interim CEO and executive director for Massport, told the workers he was moved by their statements before the board.
Davey directed Mackey to “begin talking to subcontractors immediately” about working conditions at the airport, but he admitted that any action on wages or benefits would take longer to address because the firms in question are already under contract.