My very first experience of JFK was day 1 when I reported to building#69! This is where Hudson General/GlobeGround North America’s main office was at the airport, there HQ was at that time over in Great Neck NY, I arrived prompt and early as I was required to sort out mu airside permits and my customs clearances etc. I also had to produce a copy of my L1B visa for working in the USA, on top of this I had to sort out my social security number, as well as opening bank accounts and a whole host of other things, sadly I didn’t receive a great deal of help in doing all this, I kind of had to wing it and hope it all worked out? Again another warning sign went ignored, the ladies all working at building#69 were all really nice and friendly, as were the guys in the repair shop below, the senior managers were based here at the corner of the building, three separate offices housing three different managers, a GM, a VP and a SFO as I recall, I remember at the time the VP (GB) wasn’t very polite, I didn’t know where I was supposed to be? He walked up to me and said “Who are you?” I politely introduced myself to which he said “Oh the Limey yeah, well this isn’t where you should be is it?” then he walked back in his office and slammed the door in my face, I kind of stood there for a moment thinking to myself “Welcome to New York” then as I walked off to try and find somebody who would help me, I muttered some sort of expletive! So my first 15 minutes in my new employment only 3,330.89 miles from home was going erm great!
The first really helpful person I ran into at building#69 was the trainer (BDS) he was a small thin chap, Italian American, black mustache, bald head on top but very neatly cut around the edges, he had a bright Pink shirt on and light grey Farrah type slacks lol he was a great guy first words from his mouth was “How the f**k are you doin?” obviously I responded positively to which he said that memorable line “Why the F**k would you wanna work at this s**t hole? It’s absolute f*****g chaos buddy” I’ll never forget that line, only he could of delivered it, we sat chatting for a while about life, the UK, the USA, Hudson General etc. he was gearing up to take a class of new recruits and asked me if I wanted to sit in? I happily accepted, as the new guys came in I stood and watched, please bare in mind I’m from the UK which was very conservative, sadly I could count on one hand, all the colleagues from ethnic minorities, or of foreign nationality, at the time not a single black colleague was employed in the UK business I’d just left, which looking back was appalling, here I was watching 32 guys walking into a room, some had baseball caps on, some had trousers hanging down there ass, some were chatting away on their cell phones, and almost 3/4 had dorags on! Looking back at this now, it really meant nothing and was who the guys were it made no reflection on their individual work ethic, but again coming from the UK, I was used to people arriving for an induction meeting dressed in shirt and trousers, files in their hand full of their qualifications, Resumes, references and experience etc. Yet here I was watching 32 guys shuffle in unorganized to what might be the first day of a new career, believe me I had very little lip left afterwards through biting it throughout. It was interesting as I waited for them to settle which incidentally took 15 minutes as one of the guys was on a call? The trainer opened with a little history on the company including the new transition and a small snippet on what most of these guys would be doing if employed, now as I said in (part 1) I was based at Terminal 7 British Airways, the company had quite a large presence at JFK which included, terminal 1 handling, terminal 7 handling, busing, deicing, JAL cargo, NCA cargo and numerous other areas of expertise. These guys literally could be going into a plethora of different businesses throughout the airport, what I was astonished at was when he mentioned the hours and the job 22 guys got up and left? Just like that! I was astounded, but as it transpired this was a regular occurrence and staff uptake was staggering at the shear amounts of guys that would not make it past 10 minutes, once the session had finished and of the 32 that walked in the door 7 were going forward to the recruitment process I sat and reflected with (BDS) on what had transpired? He said this was the norm, the incentive to work wasn’t great, the guys can earn more working in the terminal serving burgers? It was this conversation that raised the biggest concerns for me at that point, my fears were “What the hell had I let myself in for?“
I went and got my airside pass and was driven over to terminal 7 by (JB) another trainer, I had previously met him on my earlier visit, he drove me to the terminal where I was to meet my colleagues, I remember jumping into a beat up Hudson General logoed Ford pick up truck, it was full of crap and stunk of cigarettes, I we arrived at the terminal back entrance, I saw a large truck being loaded with cleaning utilities, as I walked over a portly gent walked over and said “Hi I’m (D) supervisor for the cleaners pleased to meet you” he was very softly spoken almost feminine, but such a nice man and a nice greeting, I said “Hi” back but could hear the whispers from other scattered around, many were apprehensive, a little standoffish to be honest which is understandable, as I wandered into the building, I noticed it was scruffy looking not much in the way of décor, as I strolled down a little further, a lady in a side office popped her head and and said “Well hello there” it turned out she was the PA or secretary or whatever her title was to the manager (MW) again I responded as I wandered further down, until we reached the operations office, it was modest to say the least but this was where all the flight sheets, off loads and loading instructions etc. were found, it was also the work space of the allocator who gave out the assigned jobs etc. As I walked in he called a British Airways flight “In Range” to which I saw guys moving I heard stuff being called out “10 Dollies” “5 over the roads?” “grab some tugs” as I stood listening I was thinking to myself “what the f**k is an Over The Road?” as the guys came past me some said Hi, alot said Yo and a few said nothing at all. As I stood looking around I didn’t see a single white guy which I found confusing, I thought given the incredible diversity of JFK there would of been a mix but it wasn’t the case, as it turned out in those first opening hours in the business, the senior managers were all white guys, the decision makers were white guys, the two white guys I met initially both trainers, two white guys were supervisors. Yet the guys that worked the ramp and provided the business with the graft were all guys and girls of ethnic minorities the disparity was mind blowing, id never seen such an obvious separation of cultural ranks! Whites in positions of authority and minorities in manual positions! I’m trying to use the right words but struggling to do it? As I sat and watched the aircraft come in and observed the guys doing their jobs, it quickly hit me that there was massive indifferences that I need to understand and explore, I needed to know why there was such obvious disparity? I needed to know why there was so few white guys working the ramp? Problem was I was looking at this with an English perspective and sadly no matter how it was painted over, or how much it was covered up institutional racism was very much alive and prominent in the UK and within companies I worked for, It was only when I stepped on the ramp at JFK did the diversity aspect hit me and believe me it hit me hard. I wanted to be amongst the guys to work with them, get to know them, and be apart of their well oiled machine.
I remember sitting with a guy (AG) after he had offloaded his flight, I was sat at the back door drinking a Diet Coke, he sat down and introduced himself, then started asking me questions about who I was etc. my initial problem was I could not understand what he was saying? He wasn’t talking in a foreign dialect, he was speaking English with an accent, the problem was I was not listening closely enough, I stupidly expected the queens English or a steady American accent, again a very stereotypical mindset from me, I apologised to him and said I’d didn’t catch what he had said and could he repeat it, to which he did, I listened carefully and it was as clear as day what he had said, so I asked him where the majority of the guys are from? He responded “Everywhere man” he went on to tell me that there were guys from the USA born and raised, as well as guys from Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago, Bahamas, Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Guyana, Suriname, Chile, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia etc. so many cultures, and languages to understand in one small place.
We sat and chatted before I was summoned to go and meet the managers of the terminal, as I wandered down to meet the guys, I saw the cleaning supervisor he said something very poignant to me something that stayed with me, he said “Hey Paul no matter what you do here at the terminal please don’t become like them be different son!” I shook his hand as I went through the doors, I always held onto those words, as I didn’t become one of them and I stayed unique. As I entered the large office at the back of the building it was like a scene from a late 1960s early 1970 airport movie, there was three guys sat at a round table, and a guy down the bottom behind a desk, they all had their ties undone hanging around their necks, apart from the guy at the desk, their top buttons undone it was such a cliché. My boss (RC) said to me in his Italian/American accent “Hey Pwaul how’s it going man, do you wanna Cwoffee or are you a tea man?” I said coffee is good, which we went and fetched we then sat down and discussed what my role was, what we were up against in terms of operational difficulties, I was given a complete low down dossier on the British Airways RDM’s and station managers, along with who was the arseholes and who wasn’t? It was evidently clear there was a divide between our company and some of the British Airways managers, and a huge divide between the British Airways engineers and our staff, after several hours of conversations, I remember my boss saying “Hey it’s getting f*****g late wrap this s**t up, I wanna go home! Pwaul go home drink a beer and we’ll see you tomorrow!” that was it! I was said my goodbyes to the guys in on shift, jumped in (JB) stinky truck and headed back to building#69, jumped in the Taurus and I left. That was pretty much day 1 in a nutshell, my head was spinning by the time I got back, I realised that I had to massively learn to listen carefully and understand the challenges all these inspiring guys were up against.
(Working At New York JFK 2000-2004 (Part 3: Adapting to JFK) to follow shortly