Security workers at John F. Kennedy International Airport find themselves in limbo – between terminals and supporting families on minimum wage.
“Nobody cares about our guys in the airport,” said Lorrington McKenzie who works traffic security outside the terminals.
McKenzie, along with other security officers, gets paid $8 an hour. He has not gotten a raise since he started working at JFK nearly four years ago.
To support his wife and three children, ages 10, 6 and 1, McKenzie has resorted to pawning anything and everything, including his wedding ring. He said he is also considering getting a second job on top of working full time at the airport.
“It’s tough,” he said. “I’m struggling.”
McKenzie said not having paid sick days adds to the “terrible conditions” of his job.
He is in charge of monitoring traffic coming in and out of the arrivals section and said drivers have gotten hostile in the past.
“They’re not allowed to sit in the terminal and wait for passengers. It’s for safety purposes,” he said. “But they get angry and frustrated when they have to drive around.”
Once, when he turned his back, he said, a driver punched him from behind.
“I was a little shaky,” he recalled. “I told Port Authority. But nothing came out of it.”
The Port Authority is responsible for contracts with private security firms that guard JFK.
Terminal 3, where McKenzie worked, closed after JFK opened a new terminal. Since then, McKenzie has not had a stable position. His company’s officials said he could be subject to a pay cut, or even lose his job altogether.
“The [job market] is all about who knows who,” he said. “I can’t just go out and get another job.”
Shah Rahman, another security guard, has not received a raise since he started working at the airport.
“The wage is quite insufficient,” he said. “It was good 10 years ago. But since that time, living expenses have risen. The minimum wage is not good for now.”
Rahman said he cannot afford to pay all of his living expenses. His wife and daughter both work part-time, but it’s still a struggle. His 23-year-old daughter is starting college soon, and the expenses will continue.
“Sometimes I have to borrow money from others,” Rahman said. “We have demanded raising our wages and paid sick days, but the company has not yet accepted our demands.”
The Port Authority did not return requests for comment as of press time.
CORRECTION**Lorrington McKenzie and Shah Rahman are non-union members working at JFK Airport. They are not members of local union SEIU 32BJ as previously reported. We regret the error.