Last February, a number of employees at Logan International Airport showed up at Massport’s monthly board meeting to file several grievances against contractors doing business at the airport for unfair labor practices.
The testimony shed light on potential “sweatshop-like” conditions at companies that are contracted for a host of passenger services at Logan. Employees have been complaining that these companies have been cutting wages and laying off workers without explanation.
Now, the state’s Attorney General is siding with Logan workers against their employer.
Attorney General Martha Coakley has cited Huntleigh USA, a contractor that provides passenger services for airlines at Logan International Airport, for “failure to pay state minimum wage” to its wheelchair attendants over the course of two years.
The Attorney General’s Office began an investigation after several Huntleigh USA wheelchair attendants came forward this year alleging that they were being paid only $7.50 an hour, fifty cents less than the minimum required by state law, and were not making enough in tips to make up the difference.
On July 23, 2012, the Attorney General issued a $2,500 civil penalty and ordered Huntleigh USA to pay $11,185.85 in restitution to thirty workers who were underpaid between April 2010, and May 2012.
“I’m thrilled that we were able to get back the money we were owed,” said Janeth Quiroz, a former Huntleigh USA employee who was the first of several employees to file complaints this year. “I will be able to pay my rent this month and maybe buy some medical supplies for my mom who suffers from osteoporosis.”
Wheelchair attendants, baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, ticket checkers, and other workers play a vital role ensuring the safety and comfort of the nearly 80,000 people who pass through Logan Airport each day. But airlines have increasingly outsourced their customer service responsibilities in recent years—resulting in plummeting wages and benefits for workers as contractors compete against each other to cut costs. A Huntleigh USA memo sent to its wheelchair agents in September 2010 cited “on-going cost reduction efforts” as the reason for cutting their hourly pay from $8.00 to $7.50.
The citation comes at a time when hundreds of airport workers at Logan are organizing with SEIU Local 615 and a coalition of community organizations to improve standards and working conditions in the airline service industry.
Substandard jobs provided by airport contractors cost Massachusetts taxpayers millions of dollars by burdening the state’s public assistance programs such as subsidized housing and Commonwealth Care. Hundreds of workers at Logan Airport choose to enroll in publicly subsidized health services because the insurance plans offered by their employers are either of very low quality or prohibitively expensive. Activists helping the Logan workers have found that the public subsidy to just five companies from taxpayers amounted to about $6.25 million from 2007-2009.
The State’s Transportation Secretary Richard Davey’s said in February that he was committed to investigate the alleged substandard working conditions at the airport.