UPDATE: A deal was made to avert the strike Wednesday afternoon. Read the latest coverage here.
More than 1,000 subcontracted airport security officers, baggage handlers and wheelchair attendants at the city's two major airports plan to strike starting Wednesday night, according to a union that seeks to represent them.
Officials with Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union said picketing would begin at Kennedy Airport at 10 p.m. Wednesday and at LaGuardia at 6 a.m. Thursday.
"We are here today to tell you that we are going on strike!" LaGuardia worker Chennee Cooper said Tuesday at a news conference at the union's Manhattan offices.
Cooper said she works 40 hours a week but lives in a shelter because she cannot afford an apartment.
"We love doing this," she said. "We don't want to go anywhere; we just want better pay so we can take care of our families."
The employees planning the walkout work for Delta subcontractor Aviation Safeguards. Craig Coy, the CEO of its parent company, Herndon, Virginia-based Command Security Corp., said there would be a contingency plan in place but he did not expect most employees to participate in the work stoppage.
Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc. had no immediate comment.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airports, said in a statement that it has taken steps to encourage wage and benefit increases for employees of airline contractors. The authority said it would work to avoid disruptions at the airports.
Workers attending the news conference said they make $10.10 an hour and that they want $15 an hour as well as the right to organize for union representation.
"Where is it acceptable, in these United States of America, in a billion-dollar industry, for a worker to give a company 20 years of service and never have a raise?" JFK security worker Donna Hampton said.
The union says the workers' efforts to organize have been met with strong-arm tactics that constitute unfair labor practices.
Officials with the union say Aviation Safeguards has stopped workers from wearing buttons and threatened to fire them if they strike.
"That is outrageous," union president Hector Figueroa said. "That should not be happening in our airports, that should not be happening in our country."
Coy denied that Aviation Safeguards has been guilty of unfair labor practices. "We are not anti-union, we are pro-employee," he said.
Several City Council members attended the union news conference and promised their support.
"We're hoping that these employers will act in good faith and sit down at the table and negotiate with these workers," Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said.
It was not clear how the planned strike might affect travelers.
The workers potentially involved in the walkout represent a small fraction of the employees at the two airports. The Port Authority says about 37,000 people work at JFK and 11,000 at LaGuardia.