Future uncertain for hundreds of Newark Airport workers facing layoffs

NEWARK, NJ — About 800 Newark Liberty Airport workers are going to be laid off, just as they were up for a raise.

United Airlines is promising to hire many back, but who will get the jobs and how much they will be paid is still a big question mark.

"I’ve had a rug pulled from underneath me," said Zakiyy Medina, a 22-year-old baggage handler at Newark Liberty. "You know, workers are pretty much in a frenzy trying to figure out where to go, how is this gonna happen?"

Medina and the others work for a company called ABM doing jobs including moving baggage, wheelchair assistance and even security. Come November, ABM's contract will end. United Airlines has decided to use a different company — one that's owned by United — called UGE.

"It is so devastating. I don’t know what is next for me," said Christina Watson, 26, another worker hit by the layoffs.

Watson said she works security near the gates and is a first responder beyond the security screening section. "We only currently right now make $10.45 an hour."

These workers have been rallying for higher wages. In March, the Port Authority signaled they would support an increase to $19 per hour. A final vote on the wage hike is scheduled for Sept. 27.

"And what does United do? Almost on the same day that these workers finally have some hope, they turn around and fire their contractor," said Kevin Brown, vice president for 32BJ SEIU, the union that represents these workers. "We think that this was capricious and vicious by United Airlines to take on these workers who have been fighting for seven years to improve their lives, to get themselves out of poverty."

United has promised to hire many of the workers back, but they must reapply. A United spokesman said there have been a lot of customer complaints about ABM workers.

In a statement, United said the move "will help United elevate the overall travel experience for our customers in Newark.”

The statement continued: “United Airlines is committed to treating all of our employees fairly, providing them with competitive compensation and industry-leading benefits and privileges and creating a safe, supportive work environment, whether or not they are represented by a union.”

United said that rehired workers could benefit from a progressive wage scale, paid time off, double-pay on holidays, health care and flight benefits, but the airline declined to comment on whether workers would get that $19 per hour.

ABM has not responded to PIX11's request for comment.