Undeterred by snowfall that turned into a cold drizzle, airport workers picketed outside the JetBlue terminal at Logan Airport late Wednesday afternoon, vowing to persist in their effort to join a union.
Sonia Ramirez, 46, of Dorchester, a cabin cleaner for ReadyJet Inc., which contracts with JetBlue Airways, said she’s prepared to see the protest through no matter how long it lasts. “Yes, it’s affecting me and my family,” she said, “but it’s for the greater good. We’re in this fight because we want better wages and health benefits.”
Contract workers for JetBlue and other airlines at Logan voted last week to authorize a strike, which could pull as many as 500 baggage handlers, wheelchair attendants, cabin cleaners, and skycaps off the job as they protest threats and illegal surveillance by management during their six-year quest to form a union.
A handful of workers scheduled to work didn’t show up for their shift on Wednesday afternoon, and by evening dozens were picketing, according to 32BJ Service Employees International Union District 615, which is organizing the workers. The union said it expects more workers to walk out in coming days.
The workers are employed by ReadyJet and Flight Services & Systems and primarily serve JetBlue.
The airline, the largest at Logan, said the picketing had no impact on operations. The subcontractors had lined up extra staff to fill in for striking workers, according to JetBlue.
ReadyJet and FSS did not responded to repeated requests for comment.
The two companies’ employees make up the vast majority of JetBlue’s third-party workforce at Logan.
The Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Logan, said there was “zero impact from people not reporting to work.”
ReadyJet and FSS have been fined for numerous wage theft and safety violations at Logan over the years, and the National Labor Relations Board has previously charged the companies with interfering with workers’ right to organize. The union filed a new complaint with the labor board this week stating that an FSS manager had taken photos of a worker talking to a union representative.
The intimidation of workers ramped up over the weekend, according to the union, after they voted Friday to authorize a strike. FSS and ReadyJet managers, accompanied by Massachusetts State Police officers, approached groups of workers and told them they weren’t allowed to congregate on the clock.
Before the strike kicked off Wednesday afternoon, about 20 airport workers attended a meeting of the Boston City Council, which passed a resolution in support of the workers.
“These workers are the backbone of what keeps our airport moving, yet they are continually overlooked and undervalued at poverty wages,” Councilor Lydia Edwards, who introduced the resolution, said in a statement. “They deserve the dignity and respect to exercise their right to organize for improvements and rights while on the job, free from surveillance, threats, or acts of intimidation.”
Before the strike, workers gathered at the Airport MBTA stop. They marched in circles, chanting in rhythm, “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” and “Workers united, we’ll never be defeated.”
They were supported by several members of 32BJ, in purple hats and bright yellow ponchos.
Police soon moved the protest outside, across a footbridge away from the T station and out of sight of travelers. The spokesman for 32BJ, Amity Paye, said workers arriving for their regular shifts would head to the picket line instead. Paye estimated that between 25 and 50 workers would picket from 4 to 11 p.m., resuming at 6 a.m. Thursday morning.
The SEIU has applied for permits to protest for the next two weeks, but the length of the picketing hinges on the response from ReadyJet and FSS, the union said.
Juan Martinez, 61, from Dorchester, and a ReadyJet cabin cleaner, wore a sign over his poncho that read “ReadyJet ON STRIKE. Legal right to organize.”
Like Ramirez, he wore a determined expression. “The employer needs us just as much as we need our wages,” he said. “Even if we’re worried about the risk that we’re taking, it doesn’t matter. We need them to respect us.”
Luis Paixao, a Boston resident flying to his home in Portugal, got off the train and onto the shuttle bus without encountering protesters. “I didn’t even know about the strike. I wasn’t affected at all,” he said.
In Terminal C at the JetBlue check-in desk, Helene Angut of Boston, on her way to Denver, was also surprised to hear of a strike. “Now I’m worried this might affect my flight,” she said. “But I fully support them.”