Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, claimed to have met a janitor who is earning the minimum wage at the Kennedy Airport who may see a pay increase if she was represented by a union, despite the fact that she is already a member of union.
Schumer joined major labor leaders, including the AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka and the American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on Wednesday, at a press conference to emphasize the party’s very own commitment to organized labor. Normally a loyal Democratic voting bloc, organized similar labor saw swaths of members defect to President Donald Trump in 2016.
Schumer had said that he was very inspired by an encounter he had with a female janitor at the Kennedy Airport, who he said earned the minimum wage because she had worked as a subcontractor.
“I met a young woman on minimum wage cleaning toilets at Kennedy Airport. Twenty years ago it would have been a union job,” he had said. “Freedom to negotiate will turn things around for America, and we’re going to fight, fight, and fight to get this done.”
Schumer’s anecdote ignored a key fact about the airport’s work environment: subcontracted workers are dues paying members of the labor giant Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ. The union called the campaign to unionize the workers and won support from workers by promising to bargain for a $15 minimum wage.
“When we started organizing three years ago, I was struggling to survive on poverty wages. Today my coworkers and I have a path to $15 an hour and we began bargaining our first union contract,” an airport baggage handler had said in a union press release. “It has been an amazing journey and I know we can keep fighting until this contract is negotiated and in place to protect the rights we have won on the job.”
When came the time to negotiate on behalf of these workers, however, the union had failed to include the wages and benefits in its bargaining. The union contract that was ratified in December 2016 relied on the state of New York’s mandatory minimum wage hike to give these workers a raise from the $10.10 rate set by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
The new union members at the Newark International Airport, however, never saw any pay increase because its $10.10 rate was still higher than the state minimum in the New Jersey. Workers began paying monthly dues to the 32-BJ despite not seeing any substantial pay increase. The union charges the members monthly dues that range between $15.19 to $79.08, as well as the initiation fees between $25 and $150, as per their latest labor filing.
Schumer had later corrected his omission in a Senate speech that was criticizing the Janus v. American Federation of State, County, Municipal Employees, a forthcoming Supreme Court case that had challenged forced unionism among the government workers. He said if the Supreme Court strikes down the mandatory union membership as the condition of employment, “it will be a dark day for the American worker.” He told his colleagues about the airport janitor he had spoken of earlier, while failing to mention that union membership did not boost her wages.
“She got minimum wage and could hardly support herself,” he said. “When Shareeka and her coworkers won a union contract, they were able to gain the tools they needed to protect themselves and do their work in a safer environment.”