American Airlines said last Thursday it would no longer allow skycaps to accept tips from passengers at Logan International Airport, following a jury’s award of $325,000 to nine skycaps who said the airline’s $2-per-bag curbside check-in fee deeply cut into their tips and violated Massachusetts’ tips law.
American said in a statement it banned tipping in light of the jury verdict, as well as a new amendment to state wage and hour laws that will make triple damages automatic for companies who do not pay full wages or overtime. The policy does not apply to skycaps at other airports around the country.
The airline also said it would ask U.S. District Judge William Young to throw out the jury’s April 7 verdict.
The company American contracts with to provide curbside check-in, G2 Services, will raise the hourly wages of skycaps to $12-$15 per hour, which is well above the state’s $8-per-hour minimum wage. Most skycaps now earn $5.15 per hour, and say they have traditionally made most of their money through tips.
Shannon Liss-Riordan, a lawyer for the skycaps, called the no-tips policy “retaliatory” and said she would seek a court injunction to stop it.
“Tipping is a universal practice among passengers, and this is how skycaps have earned their livings for decades,” she said. “Clearly, American’s decision to try to stop people from tipping skycaps is in retaliation against these skycaps who asserted their rights under the state tipping law.”
Tim Wagner, a spokesman for American, said airline officials decided to prohibit tips altogether to ensure the company does not violate the state’s tips and wage laws. He said the policy is “in no way” a retaliatory move against the Boston skycaps.
“We have to ensure we’re in full compliance because we can’t put ourselves at even more risk,” he said.
Massachusetts has a tips law that is considered one of the most protective in the country. It says any tips, gratuities and service charges must be paid in full to the employees who provide the service. It applies whether or not an employee makes less than minimum wage.
Don DiFiore, a skycap from Dracut who has worked for American airlines for 25 years, said he was told about the airline’s policy last Thursday morning by supervisors who said his pay would be increased from $10-$15 per hour. He said the pay raise will not nearly make up for the amount of tip money he has lost since American started charging passengers $2 for the baggage fee in 2005.
“I interpret it as retaliatory because we got a positive verdict in our case saying the $2 charge should go to us,” said DiFiore, who was a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
During the trial in U.S. District Court, skycaps testified that many passengers were confused and thought the $2 was going to them as a tip, while others saw the new fee as a forced tip and therefore weren’t willing to give them a gratuity on top of that. The fee is split between American Airlines and G2 Services.
American said it posted signs at several locations on the curb informing passengers that they now had to pay $2 per bag, not including gratuities.