Features, Law and Politics, Municipal Government, New York

Port Authority Backs Raises for Airport Workers

April 2, 2018

By Steve Wishnia

NEW YORK, N.Y.—The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s Board of Commissioners, voted unanimously on Mar. 29 to recommend raising the minimum wage for all service workers at John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia, and Newark airports.

Airport workers drop off petitions at Port Authority offices.

Airport workers have been tirelessly fighting for a wage hike.

The proposal would raise wages to $13.60 an hour at the two New York airports and $12.45 at Newark in September. Wages would go up again to $15.60 in 2019, and reach $19 in 2023. The board will hold a final vote in June, after a 60-day comment period.

The new wage schedule will cover an estimated an estimated 40,000 airport workers, including security officers, wheelchair agents, baggage handlers, and terminal cleaners, who generally work for private contractors and often make minimum wage or not much more. It also includes more than 7,600 airline-catering and airport-concessions workers represented by the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union and UNITE HERE Local 100.

“It definitely applies to all workers, regardless of union affiliation,” UNITE HERE Local 100 President Bill Granfield told LaborPress.

“The new wage floor of $19 per hour by 2023 shows tens of thousands of workers that they are valued by the people of New York and New Jersey and will allow hardworking men and women to finally support themselves and their families with their airport job,” Granfield, RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum, and RWDSU Local 1102 President Alvin Ramnarain said in a joint statement.

They also praised the Port Authority for including all airport service workers. “This remedies an oversight in the previous policy, passed in 2014, which did not include airline catering workers,” they said.

In September 2016, then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s appointees on the Port Authority board blocked a proposal to set a $15 minimum for workers at all three airports by 2018. Newark skycap Nancy Vazquez told LaborPress at a protest that November that she was making $2.10 an hour plus tips—and sometimes, less than the New Jersey state minimum of $10.10—after 24 years on the job.

An RWDSU spokesperson told LaborPress that the vote to raise wages came thanks to the collaboration of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “This action is about decency and respect,” Cuomo said in a statement.

The new wage policy, 32BJ SEIU said in a statement, will give New Jersey airport workers “an unprecedented $8.45 raise and parity pay with New York airport workers,” and “real gains” for New York airport workers, who have been making $13 an hour.

“We did this together, we fought for so long and we won!” Gertrudes Lopez-Ortiz, a cabin cleaner at Newark Liberty International Airport, said in a 32BJ statement. “Now it is a dream come true for me and my coworkers! I was here when the Port originally promised this in 2014. Our hard work, and the support of our brothers and sisters in 32BJ is paying off.”

32BJ began trying to organize airport service workers in the metropolitan area in 2012. In 2016, it won a first contract for about 7,000 workers.

“This is an unprecedented win for 40,000 contracted airport workers,” 32BJ President Hector Figueroa said in a statement. “Airport workers are on the front lines of ensuring safety-improving services at our airports. They greet passengers, clean the terminals and airplanes, and load bags onto planes. In emergencies passengers often turn to these workers for help. That is why it is so important that we invest in them and in their training and retention. Providing family-sustaining wages will help keep more workers on the job longer and help them build their expertise to make airports safer and run smoother.”

April 2, 2018

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