Major labor dispute at NYC airports averted

A labor dispute that threatened to disrupt operations at two of the nation's busiest airports was averted on Wednesday. The union working to help organize nonunion and subcontracted security workers and baggage handlers at New York's John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia airports said it reached a deal with their management.

The workers, employed by Aviation Safeguards (AVSG), a subsidiary of Command Security Corp. (MOC), had threatened to walk off the job after the company had allegedly threatened to fire employees who were organizing workers to demand better wages and benefits.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Command Security said Aviation Safeguards had "agreed to labor peace" with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) New York Local 32BJ as part of a process guaranteeing "that the employees of AVSG will maintain their right to choose representation or not."

Union officials said the affected airport security workers have been trying to win an order from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for "living wages of at least $15 dollars an hour and affordable health care for all subcontracted airport workers."

The Gothamist website reported that Aviation Safeguard employees are paid the Port Authority's mandated minimum wage of $10.10, without benefits.

Negotiations concerning a union contract for the affected workers are expected to start in the autumn.

"While the airlines have been making record profits and the Port Authority has approved billions of dollars to modernize LaGuardia airport, the airport workers who make these profits possible are struggling to survive," the union statement said.

Long-time observers say the wage and benefit issue is a looming challenge for the airline industry. "Living wage is a huge issue at the level of the thousands of employees that do this sort of work," aviation industry consultant Robert Mann told Reuters.