May 29, 2015
By Marc Bussanich
New York, NY—In April 2014 the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey announced that it would adopt a minimum wage policy for contract workers at all the agency’s facilities. But as the agency convened on Thursday at 4 World Trade Center to vote on the redevelopment of LaGuardia Airport, airport workers and the building services union 32BJ SEIU protested outside to say that the agency isn’t keeping to its wage and benefit promise.
The agency’s mandate in 2014 called for contractors to pay an appropriate minimum wage—$10.10 per hour—to their workers and also called for employers to develop plans for “enhanced wages and benefits.”
But according to Héctor Figueroa, 32BJ SEIU’s president, the agency still hasn’t pressured employers at the region’s three major airports to raise wages above $10.10.
“We have seen month after month after month with no action by the Port Authority; we’re here to demand that the Port Authority [take action]. As they vote to modernize LaGuardia that they cannot have a 21st century airport with 19th century working conditions. We’ve got to upgrade our workforce, we’ve got to train them and we’ve got to pay them fairly so that the airport is all that it should be,” said Figueroa.
Indeed, the agency said in a statement after the demonstration that it voted to begin the first phase of an overall redevelopment of LaGuardia Airport by selecting LaGuardia Gateway Partners to develop a $3.6 billion facility to serve approximately 50 percent of the passenger volume at LaGuardia.
The agency is facing increasing calls from elected officials and the public to shift its focus back to planning and financing new infrastructure projects. Indeed, the Port Authority’s Chairman, John Dengan, recently announced the agency is committed to funding a new, $15 billion trans-Hudson passenger rail tunnel. Facing billions in new capital construction costs, we asked Figueroa if $15 an hour, the same rate the fast food workers campaign is calling for, is the wage floor the union is seeking.
“$15 an hour is a good start, and certainly would help these workers right away. Our ultimate goal is parity; we need equity between those that are contracted by the Port Authority and those contracted by the airlines,” Figueroa said.
We also interviewed Daquan Allen, an airport worker at Newark, who said he and his fellow airport workers are waiting for the Port Authority to take action so that they can receive better pay.
“When I started working at the airport I was making $8.25 an hour, and now we’re making $10.10 an hour. We’re grateful for that but it’s just a start and we’re pressing for even better,” said Allen.