Monday, May 19, 2014 – More than 100 people from POWER and labor union SEIU 32BJ rallied at Philadelphia International Airport Monday for a prayer vigil and tour for elected officials, highlighting the plight of thousands of workers employed by firms with publicly-subsidized subcontracts who are paid poverty wages.
The coalition of faith, labor and political leaders promoted Ballot Question #1 – which will appear on the May 20th primary ballot in Philadelphia and asks voters if City Council should extend the existing 21st Century Minimum Wage and Benefits Standard ($10.88/hour plus benefits) to workers on city subcontracts. The referendum will solidify the executive order signed by Mayor Nutter on May 6 to raise wages for subcontractors.
Pastor Melanie DeBouse from Evangel Chapel in North Philadelphia, spoke on behalf of POWER.
“POWER’s got your back,” DeBouse said to the workers. “We have been with you from the beginning – standing, praying and organizing. Over the past three months, we’ve been on the streets talking to voters to say Yes on One, and we won’t give up or give in. Because it’s not just Philadelphia that is watching what happens tomorrow at the polls. There’s a higher power above who is watching.”
To promote Ballot Question #1, POWER has contacted nearly 40,000 voters since early March and expects to move 5,000 infrequent voters to the polls who otherwise would not likely vote in an off-year, primary election.
US Congressman Bob Brady, State Representative Maria Donatucci, Philadelphia City Councilperson Kenyatta Johnson, and Councilman Curtis Jones were among the speakers. Airport workers too gave personal testimonies about struggling to make ends meet on minimum wage.
Also speaking at the rallly was John Temple, of National Employment Law Project who recently issued a report documenting the impact of poverty wages among Airport and other subcontracted workers.
The airport has been the center of POWER’s work for economic justice in 2011, when POWER began to shed light on the issue of poverty-wage jobs under subcontracted firms – particularly out of concern and hope for the airport’supcoming expansion project. POWER, SEIU32BJ and allies have argued for several years that large, profitable firms with city subcontracts often skirt the intent of the 21st Century Minimum Wage and Benefits Standard – passed by City Council in 2005 – by subcontracting out large parts of their city contracts.
“As the national movement to raise wages gains steam, Philadelphians will have a chance to raise the wage for thousands of workers in tomorrow’s election,” said Bishop Dwayne Royster, Executive Director of POWER. “By voting ‘Yes’ on Ballot Question #1 we will in effect ensure that the City’s minimum wage and benefits standard to airport and other subcontracted workers who have not been receiving the benefit of this law,” added Royster.
POWER and SEIU32BJ see this campaign as part of the national movement to raise the minimum wage, spurred by President Obama’s State of the Union Speech in January of this year and Mayor Michael Nutter’s signing of an Executive Order setting higher wage standards in the city two weeks ago.The result is poverty, insecurity and a reliance on public subsidies like food stamps for thousands of workers at the Philadelphia International Airport and other city-supported institutions. Their average wage is just barely above the state minimum wage, at $7.85 an hour, with no paid sick days or health insurance.
Royster’s claim is supported by NELP’s report – released today at the prayer rally – which documents that failing to extend the city’s “living wage” standard to airport and other subcontracted workers results in $16 million in wages per year and costs the city $20 million in economic activity.