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Airport contract workers call off Logan strike

Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

Airport contract workers marched in the rain Wednesday in a picket line near Logan Airport. The workers are attempting to unionize, and their two-day strike ended Thursday.

By Katie Johnston and Margeaux Sippell Globe Staff and Globe Correspondent 

Contract workers at Logan Airport abruptly called off their strike Thursday after two days, but picked up support from local officials who vowed to assist their efforts to unionize.

The workers, who provide services for JetBlue Airways and other carriers, met with state legislators, Boston city councilors, and Governor Charlie Baker’s staff on Thursday, the union said, and the officials pledged to put pressure on the two companies that employ them, ReadyJet and Flight Services & Systems, as well as JetBlue and the Massachusetts Port Authority, to allow the workers to organize a union.

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The contract workers did not come to any sort of agreement with their employers, however.

Several hundred baggage handlers, wheelchair attendants, cabin cleaners, and skycaps voted last week to go on strike to protest what they called threats and illegal surveillance by management during their six-year quest to form a union, but it’s unclear how many of them walked off the job. Airport officials said only a handful of workers missed their shifts over the course of two days, while the union organizing the strike put the number at more than 150.

Airport officials said there was no impact on operations.

The union, 32BJ Service Employees International Union District 615, said the two subcontractors attempted to entice workers to cross the picket line with promises of full-time hours or benefits, which convinced some of the workers to abandon the strike.

ReadyJet declined to comment and Flight Services & Systems did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

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The two companies 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 complaint with the labor board earlier this week, stating that an FSS manager had taken photos of a worker talking to a union representative, and it plans to file another complaint over the alleged enticements.

JetBlue Airways, the largest carrier at Logan and the primary airline served by these companies, said it had not experienced any staffing concerns or operational impact from the picketing.

JetBlue is one of only a handful of major airlines without unionized flight attendants, but its 4,800 flight attendants, including more than 1,300 based in Boston, are in the process of unionizing.

On Thursday afternoon, the airport contractors held a rally outside South Station. Carlos Morales, 60, of Revere, a part-time ReadyJet employee who cleans cabins and drives a bus transporting workers between planes on the tarmac, said he skipped his 2 to 8:30 p.m. shift to attend the protest.

“I’m happy to be on strike because there is a lot of injustice at the airport, and this is what we have to do,” he said.

State Representative Adrian Madaro of East Boston was one of several elected officials who showed up at the rally. “It’s about respect and dignity for these workers,” he said. “Right now we’re seeing subcontractors of JetBlue not treating workers fairly. They’re on strike today because they were trying to exercise their right to organize. That is a fundamental right that workers should have in the United States of America. It’s protected by federal law. Yet here we are, dealing with subcontractors at Logan Airport who are threatening and intimidating these workers, all for trying to exercise their rights to organize, to advocate for fair wages and fair benefits.”

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About 22,000 airport workers across the country have joined SEIU since it started organizing at airports in 2012, including baggage handlers and wheelchair attendants in Los Angeles, at the three New York City-area airports, and in Philadelphia, where American Airlines recently stepped in to pave the way for its subcontracted workers to unionize.

In September, the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance forbidding contractors at the two local airports from interfering with union organizing.

ReadyJet and FSS have no unionized workers at other airports, according to 32BJ.

At Logan, roughly a quarter of the airport’s 2,000 contract workers belong to a union, according to the Massachusetts Port Authority.

As the number of contract workers rises, unions face mounting challenges in trying to unite them, said Valerie Samuels, who chairs the employment law group at Posternak Blankstein & Lund. At Logan, if the contractors agree to pay their workers more, the companies will likely charge the airlines more to make up for it, setting up multiple levels of resistance to unionization. The workers are also usually low-paid and provide services to companies they don’t technically work for.

“These folks aren’t making a lot. A lot of them are immigrants, and English probably isn’t their first language,” Samuels said. “For them to go without a paycheck for even a week is a very big hardship.”


Katie Johnston can be reached katie.johnston@globe.com
Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.