March 25, 2014
By Marc Bussanich
Newark, NJ—It’s two months since the Port Authority’s executive director, Pat Foye, ordered the airlines to increase workers’ wages immediately by $1 an hour. But the airlines and subcontractors at Newark Airport are balking, compelling airport workers to rally on Monday outside Terminal C. Video
On January 28, 2014 Foye wrote a letter to the CEO’s of four major airlines directing them and their subcontractors to bump up pay immediately and then phase in a wage increase of $10.10 an hour, the same rate President Obama is calling for an increase in the minimum wage nationwide. But apparently United Airlines, with a big hub in Newark, is remaining silent.
Kevin Brown, a vice president with 32BJ SEIU, the property services union helping airport workers improve working conditions at all three main airports in the region, said while United initially said it supports better conditions, it has remained quiet.
“We met with them a few weeks ago. They said they’re concerned about the community but as far as I see they’re not really concerned because they haven’t said anything about these workers’ fight for justice, for a living wage, for health benefits—here no evil, see no evil, speak no evil doesn’t fly,” Brown said.
Newark airport workers are angry and don’t believe it’s fair that workers at JFK and LaGuardia Airports got a wage increase while they haven’t.
They did benefit from a $1 an hour increase when New Jersey voters voted to increase the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 in November, which Governor Christ Christie originally vetoed.
But they want the Port Authority to grant them an immediate $1 an hour raise.
Gertrude Contreras, who has worked at the airport for nine years, said her employer gave a wage increase when the minimum wage went up but has since then reduced her hours.
“They made up for the wage increase by cutting hours. It’s as if we never got a wage increase,” said Contreras.
Despite United unwilling to raise wages, airport workers received good news last week when the Port Authority Board of Commissioners, during a meeting in Jersey City, voted to authorize Mr. Foye to develop a policy that mandates wage increases and benefits for workers at all Port Authority facilities, including Newark Liberty International Airport.
Mr. Brown told airport workers as they rallied outside Terminal C that they shouldn’t be working for poverty wages.
“We’re not going to take minimum wage. We’re going to keep fighting until we have living wages with healthcare, paid days off and a little vacation, everything that everybody should have but unfortunately don’t have at this airport,” Brown said.
Ms. Contreras said she was glad to hear of the Port Authority’s action last week, but the lack of an increase at Newark despite the directive by Mr. Foye on January 28 is making the workers concerned for their jobs.
“It’s very sad. A lot of the workers got even more scared to organize because they think they are going to be fired.”
She noted nobody has been fired but subcontractors keep increasing workloads without increasing wages.
The workers were also joined by New Jersey elected officials during the rally. Orville Morales, a spokesman for Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr., said the Congressman was proud to stand with airport workers.
“It’s really a shame that it’s come to this. Governor Christie was handed a golden opportunity to improve the lives of hundreds of Port Authority workers when Governor Cuomo [announced an increase]. Instead, he directed his cronies at the Port Authority to stand in the doorway.”
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