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Councilor Felix Arroyo shows support for Logan Airport workers

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  June 21, 2012 03:48 PM

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(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)

City Councilor Felix G. Arroyo addressed the Massachusetts Port Authority board of directors on Thursday.

City Councilor Felix G. Arroyo joined with airport workers Thursday to decry what they say are low wages and poor treatment of employees by contractors at Logan Airport, but one of those contractors stood up to deny their assertions.

Arroyo appeared with airport workers and supporters from the Lift Off Coalition as they returned to the monthly meeting of the Massachusetts Port Authority board to ask the independent public authority to require airport contractors to offer better wages and benefits.

The workers, who perform cleaning, security, and passenger assistance duties, have said many work at or below minimum wage and are offered no health insurance or paid sick time.

The Lift Off Coalition was formed last year by labor unions and community groups to fight for workers at the airport, which is owned by Massport. Coalition members previously spoke at the board meeting last month and in February, when Secretary of Transportation Richard A. Davey pledged to investigate their claims.

Before being elected to the council, Arroyo served as political director for Service Employees International Union Local 615, one of the lead organizations in the workers’ coalition.

Speaking to Massport’s board Thursday, Arroyo praised the standards for employee compensation and benefits the authority sets for contractors under its direct control, but he said passenger service contractors working for the airlines don’t always have such high standards.

“When I juxtapose the standards you set with your own employees and with folks you directly contract with, with the standards set by the companies contracted by the airlines here, it’s like night and day,” Arroyo said.

The councilor said some of these contractors don’t provide health insurance that meets state standards, and they pay “what I would consider poverty wages.” He said state residents have paid about $6.25 million over three years to cover health care costs of these uninsured and underinsured workers.

The jobs also offer little security, Arroyo said, citing the looming July 1 expiration of the contract between Flight Services & Systems and Delta Airlines, which he said would affect more than 60 FSS employees. Service Air, the firm that will replace FSS, has told the workers they can re-apply for their jobs under the new contract, but there are no guarantees.

“As you know, being told you can apply and being told you have a job are two very different things,” Arroyo told the board.

He urged Massport to adopt a retention policy similar to one at Los Angeles International Airport, which he said would protect workers’ jobs when a new contractor steps in.

Eliseo Perez said he was among the workers affected by the termination of a previously contract. Speaking through a translator, Perez said he had worked for the facilities management firm Aramark for more than nine years when he suddenly lost his job as FSS took over a contract. Some of his coworkers had been in their jobs for 10 or 15 years when they were fired, Perez added.

“They did not want to accept us as their workers because we were organized,” Perez said in Spanish.

Lisa A. Varotsis, FSS regional director, came to the meeting to reject claims her firm doesn’t provide adequate pay or benefits, though she said the company is non-union and plans to stay that way.

“FSS is a company that not only provides benefits of health care, vision, dental, 401(k), and vacation for fulltime employees, we also provide those same benefits to our part-time employees as well,” Varotsis told Massport’s board.

While other Logan contractors under fire have publicly remained silent, Varotsis has sought to defend her firm’s reputation, previously issuing a letter to employees in November 2011 stating that employees were paid fair wages and given opportunities to advance.

On Thursday, Varotsis said the firm employs 349 workers at Logan. Of those, 100 wheelchair operators are paid less than minimum wage — either $8 or $7.50 per hour, depending on how they are classified — because they receive tips from passengers they assist, she said, which average about $6 per hour. Sky caps are also paid less, she said, because they receive around $200 per day in tips.

Varotsis also said FSS employees are free to speak their minds publicly without fear of intimidation, but members of the coalition speaking outside the board meeting said that wasn’t true.

“We’ve got workers who have signed statements saying, ‘I had a meeting with my boss. They told me, if the union comes, you should call the State Police and say they’re threatening you. I don’t want to see you talking to the union,’” said Dan Nicolai, an SEIU organizer.

Email Jeremy C. Fox at jeremycfox@gmail.com.
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Lisa Varotsis.jpg

(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)

Lisa A. Varotsis, regional director of Flight Services & Systems, rejected claims that her firm doesn’t provide adequate benefits or pay for its workers.

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