More than 1,000 security officers, baggage handlers and wheelchair attendants at New York’s LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International Airports voted unanimously to authorize a strike starting Wednesday night.
The contract workers will walk off the job at JFK’s Terminal 7, home to British Airways, United Airlines and Cathay Pacific Airways, at 10 p.m. The strike will continue through July 23 at JFK and LaGuardia, said Amity Paye, a spokeswoman for Service Employees International Union’s Local 32BJ.
“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,” said a news release from SEIU 32BJ.
The non-union contract workers are employed by Aviation Safeguards, a division of Herndon, Virginia-based Command Security Corp. Most of the employees set to strike work for Delta Airlines Inc. Others work for British Airways and United, a unit of United Continental Holdings Inc., according to Paye.
“Delta will be taking measures to ensure that our more than 35,000 customers booked through LaGuardia on Thursday are not affected,” spokeswoman Elizabeth Wolf said in an e-mail.
Delta has a 26 percent share of passengers at Kennedy and 22 percent at LaGuardia, according to Department of Transportation data.
United has contingency plans in place for any strike by the workers, said Luke Punzenberger, a United spokesman. He declined to comment further. United, with a major hub at nearby Newark, New Jersey’s Liberty International airport, has about a 7.8 percent share of passengers at LaGuardia and 4.6 percent share at Kennedy.
The union said they will picket at JFK from 10 p.m. Wednesday to 1 a.m. Thursday morning. LaGuardia workers will picket starting 6 a.m. Thursday.
The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which runs New York City’s airports, said in a statement that the agency will work to avoid disruption of airline operations.
“The Port Authority has taken significant steps in recent years to encourage wage and benefit increases for employees of airline contractors at its airports,” the agency said in the statement.
The strike would be the largest since the start of a three-year organizing campaign by the union. Aviation Safeguards has made “repeated, illegal threats to workers,” who want to join, according to a July 20 news release from the union.
Aviation Safeguards has stopped workers from wearing union buttons, misrepresented their rights and threatened to fire them for striking, the news release said.
The security officers going on strike patrol the halls and entries of the airports. They aren’t employees of the Transportation Security Administration, which handles airport checkpoint and baggage screening.
Command Security Chief Executive Officer Craig Coy said the union’s allegations were false. The company hasn’t violated any laws, he said.
“The company is not anti-union, the company is pro-employee,” Coy said in a telephone interview Monday. “This is the United States of America and there’s a process that is well established on how employees go about letting their employer know if they wish to organize and join a union. None of that process has happened here.”
JFK airport employs 37,000 while LaGuardia employs 11,000, according to Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman.
JFK served a record estimated 53.2 million passengers in 2014, while LaGuardia also set an airport high with 26.9 million travelers, the Port Authority said in January.