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1,200 Airport Workers in N.Y.C. Area Abruptly Laid Off With NO Severance

Date: March 21, 2020

SOURCE: THE NEW YORK TIMES

IMAGE SOURCE: 
Jonah Markowitz for The New York Times 

Amid the spreading pandemic, thousands of employees of businesses in the airports around New York City may have their benefits cut off.
Maria Campos had worked as a waitress at La Guardia Airport for more than 30 years until Tuesday, when her career came to an abrupt halt that left her scared and empty-handed. She was ordered to turn in her airport access badge and told she would receive no severance pay and would soon run out of health insurance.

With air travel in free fall as the coronavirus pandemic worsens across the country, thousands of workers like Ms. Campos have been laid off from their jobs at the major airports that serve New York City.

More than 1,200 of these laid-off workers were employed in restaurants and stores operated by OTG at La Guardia, Kennedy International and Newark Liberty International airports, according to the union that represents them, Unite Here Local 100.

OTG said the closings and layoffs were necessary because of the travel restrictions that had virtually grounded airlines. One of its senior executives is Lawrence Schwartz, a close ally of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

“You can’t pay people” when the company is taking in very little revenue, said Mr. Schwartz.

“The airports are dead,” he added. “No one’s flying.”

OTG, one of the biggest operators of airport concessions in New York, informed its workers that they would receive no severance, and that their health insurance would lapse on March 31.

“You can’t pay people” when the company is taking in very little revenue, said Mr. Schwartz.

“The airports are dead,” he added. “No one’s flying.”

OTG, one of the biggest operators of airport concessions in New York, informed its workers that they would receive no severance, and that their health insurance would lapse on March 31. 

Many workers said they resented the way OTG handled the layoffs.

Edith Muzquiz, a bartender in Terminal C at Newark Liberty, said she was called into a meeting in an OTG restaurant there at 11 p.m. on Monday and told, along with a few dozen other employees, that they were being laid off immediately. 

She said they were escorted out and told to surrender their badges.

On Wednesday, she received an official notice from OTG that said, “You should consider your layoff to be permanent as the situation is unprecedented and the effects are unknown.”

The notice went on to say that “OTG is not offering severance packages, however due to the impact the COVID-19 is having on the nation, many local governments are offering additional assistance to impaired workers.”

Ms. Muzquiz, who had worked for OTG in the airport for five years, said she understood the predicament the company was in, but she took issue with the message and the way it was delivered: a curt dismissal that offered no compensation or benefits to help employees left jobless in an economy that is cratering.

“This isn’t our first rodeo with OTG,” she added. “How they treat their employees is not right.”

Ms. Campos, 57, agreed that the way that OTG treated its workers was “very not fair.”

Ms. Campos, who for the last eight years had served customers at OTG’s Prime Tavern in Terminal D, said she was especially worried about the company’s newer workers who were let go with no paid time off or accumulated sick days to use. “You run out of your sick pay, you don’t get anything,” she said. “You walk out of there with nothing.”

Waves of workers at airports across the country are losing their jobs as travelers evaporate, but some companies are offering their employees a financial lifeline, including extending their health care coverage.

Many restaurants and shops in once bustling airport terminals have closed with business essentially having come to a standstill.

Arthur Phillips, a spokesman for Unite Here Local 100, said the union estimated that at least 2,400 of its members had been laid off from jobs in concessions or catering at the three airports that serve New York City.

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