David Harrison has worked as a skycap at John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport for three years, and is struggling to live with his $4.15 hourly pay.
Four days a week, Harrison helps passengers with their bags from the curb to their respective ticket counters. He relies heavily on tips from these incoming travelers, but said those decrease as the vacation season winds down. On a slow day, he said he gets roughly $30 to $40 in tips. He uses his pay to cover transportation to and from work, his cell phone bill and any household items.
Harrison, who works for American Airline service contractor Alstate Maintenance in JFK’s Terminal 1, said that overall, he is being underpaid. In a complaint filed with the Attorney General’s office, he and other Alstate skycaps allege the contractor violated the state’s minimum wage law for tipped employees.
The state requires employers pay tipped employees $5.50 an hour.
At JFK, Alstate also employs terminal and cabin cleaners, and wheelchair and baggage agents at Terminals 1, 4, 7 and 8. All workers allege the contractors have violated their pay rights.
Alstate workers, elected officials and members of local union SEIU 32BJ gathered at JFK on Thursday, November 7 to call on the airline and terminal operators for better treatment.
Harrison, who receives about $80 a week outside of tips, said that when a baggage cart breaks, they are forced to pay about $40 out of pocket for repairs. Once, he asked a supervisor for assistance in the fix, but was ignored. Additionally, skycaps allege they must frequently assist passengers in need of wheelchair assistance when a chair agent is not available.
These agents receive the state minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Skycaps don’t get paid any extra to assist with wheelchairs.
“We’re doing two jobs, and we’re not getting paid right for one,” Harrison said.
He added that fellow skycaps have “worked chairs all day, and they don’t make anything in tips.”
“I can’t have workers in my district working for poverty wages,” said Councilmember Donovan Richards.
Richards added his office has received reports that airport workers have experienced intimidation and harassment from their employers when they try to stand up for themselves.
“We just want what’s right for us at the end of the day,” Harrison said.
Alstate Maintenance could not be reached for comment.