BOSTON, Mass.—It was five degrees below zero the night of March 17, and Giselle Torres was on her way to clean a plane. She worked for ReadyJet, a service company contracted by Delta Airlines, at Logan Airport. Cleaning planes is a thankless job, and ReadyJet doesn’t make things easier. She only gets one pair of gloves to clean three or four planes, and no toilet scrubbers—meaning she has to clean toilets by hands. She and others have to ask mechanics for supplies, since ReadyJet consistently ignores their requests. Cabin and plane cleaners get exposed to all sorts of bodily fluids and cleaning chemicals, but get no skin protection, soap or change of gear.
ReadyJet is one of the largest contractors at Logan, but other companies’ employees are unsatisfied and frustrated as well. Airport workers, baggage handlers, cleaners and wheelchair assistants have fought for three years for better working conditions, more equipment and union contracts. Most make between eight and ten dollars an hour and none receive benefits. In January, Torres started collecting signatures from coworkers who were interested in forming or joining a union.
Torres made her way up the stairs to enter the plane, but there was a problem—the stairs weren’t level with the door, which kept it from opening properly. She tried to force her way into the plane, getting the door wide open enough to fit through, then it closed on her. She was stuck and off balance leaving her with two choices: fall into the plane, or fall out of the plane. She chose the former, falling forward. Although the safer choice, she still severely hurt her back, and hasn’t been able to work since.
She hasn’t received any workers compensation. She had to complain to three supervisors before any would file an injury report, and had to fight even more to see any of her medical bills covered. Her doctor has even told ReadyJet they should cover her MRI, but so far, they’ve refused.
The fight has continued since her injury. The Mass. Attorney General’s office investigated and fined ReadyJet On July 23 for $13,045 in restitution as well as a civil penalty of $5,000. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration also fined ReadyJet $2,000 for health and safety violations, also fining several contractors at Logan. Alleged violations include unpaid overtime, straight time, training hours, vacations and a failure to provide breaks to workers during 10-hour shifts.
The workers are stepping up their fight. On Thursday, August 6, politicians, activists and local leaders joined airport workers like Torres as they kicked off a new campaign to demand better wages, better conditions and union contracts. Held in the downtown offices of 32BJ SEIU, the launch meeting attracted officials like Attorney General Martha Coakley, Treasurer Steve Grossman, Felix Arroyo, Tito Jackson, as well as representatives from the Mass. Coalition for Occupational Safety & Health, the Boston Archdiocese, various labor councils and other local organizations and unions.
“Airport workers have been playing by the rules for years,” said Roxana Rivera, district leader of 32BJ, the union that has actively helped organize airport workers. “They’ve been coming to work everyday to keep the airport running. Now the only thing we’re asking for is decent wages and decent working conditions.”
“We know the airlines make a lot of money, and they make mistakes and they get bailed out,” said Coakley, who is running for governor. “It’s time that people who are working hard just to make a living have a chance to organize, make a living wage, and have a chance to get ahead.”
Grossman lead the crowds in chants of “We will win,” “stand together” and “si se puede.”
“Every public official who is not standing with us today is on the other side,” Grossman said. “There are not three sides to this issue; there are two. You’re either with the workers or you’re not with the workers.”
“It’s a difficult fight ahead of you, more difficult than fighting with a union,” said Arroyo, representing the Mayor’s office. “This is a fight for dignity. A fight to say I exist, that I deserve respect.”
“We need to understand that transportation infrastructure brings money into Boston and Massachusetts,” said Jackson. “These workers are the infrastructure.”
“I’ve been working at the airport since I came to this country. I was promised a good job, that I could go to the school. But those things are not there,” said Emmanuel Sebit, who came to Boston from a Kenyan refugee camp. Sebit is an employee of G2, another company contracted by Logan. “Being at G2 is worse than the refugee camp … I don’t even know what my future will be tomorrow.”