JFK contract workers strike, citing poor conditions

Employees of Eulen America strike for better conditions at JFK Airport. Photo via 32BJ SEIU

Employees of Eulen America strike for better conditions at JFK Airport. Photo via 32BJ SEIU

By Victoria Merlino

Supported by local politicians, the employees of an American Airlines contractor at JFK Airport began striking on June 27, citing poor working conditions and failure to follow the state’s paid sick leave laws, among other issues. 

Employees of Eulen America are speaking out about Eulen’s “long history of mistreatment of their almost exclusively immigrant workforce,” according to a statement from 32BJ SEIU, the largest property service workers union in the country. 

The company provides employees for airline services like cabin cleaning, cargo handling and passenger services like ticket agents. Employees are not unionized.

32BJ SEIU alleges that in March 2019, Eulen illegally told its JFK Airport employees that they had to use all paid sick leave time accrued in 2018, with managers placing signs by the punch-out clock to remind workers. Workers filed complaints with the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection. 

In May, workers held a rally at City Hall that included Queens politicians like Councilmembers Francisco Moya, Jimmy Van Bramer and I. Daneek Miller. 

“Everyone gets sick. Providing paid sick leave isn’t generous, it’s acknowledging reality and responding humanely. I stand in solidarity with the Eulen America workers at JFK, with @32BJSEIU and for treating people with dignity and decency,” Moya tweeted at the time

At the Thursday strike, Senator Kevin Thomas, Assemblymember Brian Barnwell, Assemblymember Michaelle Solages and Councilmember Donovan Richards were on hand to support workers.

Eulen workers across three other airports in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Washington, D.C. are also striking, citing bad working conditions, including no sick leave, no breaks and intimidation tactics from management, according to a report from the Miami Herald.

“Many of us came from difficult countries, we came in search of the American dream,” Eulen employee Esteban Barrios, 61, told the Herald. “It’s turned into a nightmare.”

Barrios, according to the Herald, has worked with Delta through Eulen for three years in Miami. A spokesperson for Delta told the Eagle that the airline does not utilize Eulen at JFK. 

American Airlines, which uses Eulen for services such as cabin cleaning, special services assistance, and at security checkpoints in several airports; including, JFK, does not expect any service disruptions as a result of the strike, a spokesperson told the Eagle.

At Miami International Airport, where the airline had become concerned about Eulen’s work, it shifted wheelchair services from Eulen to in-house team members at Envoy.

“American has been in close contact with Eulen about its practices and is closely monitoring its response to concerns raised by its employees. American does not expect any disruption in its service today. American continues to encourage Eulen to meet with and listen to the SEIU,” a spokesperson for the airline told the Eagle in a statement.

Eulen’s CEO Xavier Rabell has previously said that the workers’ allegations are untrue, and that the company cares about its workforce.

UPDATE 6/28: Eulen provided this comment to the Eagle regarding the strike:

“Eulen America workers were not and are not on strike in any airport. All services are being provided with no disruption to our clients. The union PR campaign is using non-Eulen workers in their protests locally to create confusion. Our employees are at work, and flight and passenger support operations are not being disrupted. We do not object at all if our employees wish to unionize. No one needs to mislead the public about our company in order to choose the right to collective bargaining. What we DO object to is inaccurate and unfair characterizations about us and how we treat our team members.

Eulen America wants to reiterate our full commitment to our business partners, our employees and our culture of safety and respect.” Xavier Rabell CEO Eulen America

When asked about the statement, a spokesperson from 32BJ SEIU claimed that there were dozens of workers on strike at JFK, and that Eulen was being untruthful. The workers, the spokesman said, returned to work on June 28.