Cabin Cleaners Strike at Newark Airport

By Brenda Flanagan

More than 100 union workers defiantly walked a picket line outside Newark Airport’s Terminal C today — a hub for United Airlines. They get minutes to clean the cabins in-between flights while airplanes sit parked on the tarmac. But they don’t just sweep for dirt and trash.

“Dangerous objects — like syringes, needles with blood-borne pathogens which are hazardous to our health — being rushed off the planes without conducting a proper and thorough security search,” said Shane Charles, a cabin cleaner with 32BJ SEIU.

East Orange resident Charles says these workers must look for explosives, bombs, guns, knives — with minimal training and protection.

“We are issued no protective gear: no gloves, no masks, no facial protection — nothing,” Charles said.

“I need to strike,” said Yesenia Rosales, a cabin cleaner with 32BJ SEIU. Why? “Because they don’t give us enough time for security checks,” she said.

“We don’t exactly know what we’re looking for, but we’re supposed to be looking for things that are dangerous when we go on the planes, but we need to be trained. We want a safe and secure airport. Safety first,” said 32BJ SEIU Vice President Kevin Brown.

Cabin cleaners are members of 32 BJ Service Employees International Union and make $10.10 an hour, working for PrimeFlight — a subcontractor employed by United Airlines.

“PrimeFlight shame on you, shame on you,” Brown starts to chant.

Records show OSHA’s proposed $30,000 worth of citations against PrimeFlight for serious health and safety lapses here at Newark. The company had no comment. Cabin cleaners walked off the job at seven other airports, too — including LaGuardia.

“Airport workers across the country are concerned about low wages, high turnover, insufficient or lack of training, short-staffing, work speed-up, along with inadequate safety and health standards for our airports not only put workers in danger but also undermine the safety and the quality of service and that’s why we are here today,” said SEIU NJ State Council Executive Director Lizette Delgado-Polanco.

The union also demanded higher wages and welcomed the support of Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, a proponent of the $15 minimum wage movement.

“If people aren’t compensated fairly, the quality of the employees you get are less, and if the quality is less, the safety is less. It impacts tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and the millions of people that walk through these doors every single day,” he said.

This is a 24-hour strike. Workers say they did it to make a point. To make living, they’re going to be back on those airplanes tonight, cleaning.