By Ayana Jones
Philadelphia Tribune, May 20, 2014
Elected officials, faith and labor leaders, and airport workers rallied Monday morning at the Philadelphia International Airport in support of raising the minimum wage for thousands of airport employees.
On Election Day, Philadelphia residents will have the opportunity to raise the wage for airport workers by voting yes on ballot question number one. The question asks voters if City Council can increase the minimum wage to $10.88 per hour for airport workers. The vote would extend the existing 21st century minimum wage and benefits standard to workers on city subcontracts.
During Monday’s rally, Congressman Bob Brady, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, Councilman Curtis Jones and State Sen. Vincent Hughes joined faith and community leaders representing POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild) labor leaders representing SEIU32BJ to highlight the plight of thousands of workers who are employed by firms with publicly subsidized subcontracts and paid poverty wages.
POWER has been pushing to increase the minimum wage of workers at the Philadelphia International Airport for the last two and a half years. The airport workers currently work for an average wage of $7.85 per hour.
“This is critical for moving Philadelphia from being the poorest big city in America and getting our communities from a place of barely survival to a place of survival,” Bishop Dwayne Royster, executive director of POWER said of the vote to increase the minimum wage.
“We want to be able to see this initiative win in huge numbers because we know that if it wins in huge numbers it also sends a very loud message to political and business leaders that Philadelphians and Pennsylvanians are looking for a minimum wage increase all the way around. We are encouraging people to vote yes to one. We are encouraging workers here at the airport to unionize and become part of a union because we know that in the history of America, unions helped to make people move from poverty into the middle class.”
While the governor’s race is very important, Jones said raising the wage standards for airport workers is equally important. He said the families of more than 2,000 airport workers would be impacted by today’s vote.
“The people here – the ones who push the wheelchairs – make $2.83 an hour. Who can live off of $2.83? The management would argue that they can make tips, but you can’t rely on other people’s generosity,” Jones said.
“This airport is a billion dollar industry and they are bringing commerce in and out of here. Shared prosperity is where we should be.”
Jones and other elected officials in attendance met with some of the airport management over concerns that they were intimidating employees and keeping them from hearing the information pertaining to the ballot question.
The vote would impact airport workers like Sarina Santos, a full-time baggage handler who makes $7.25 an hour. She said she works overtime just to see a little extra money.
“Me and my husband, we are struggling. We are living paycheck to paycheck. I have to scrape up food, basically for my kids half the time, so this $10.88 [per hour] would mean so much to me. I think I could live a much better life with the $10.88,” said Santos, who has four children.
The National Employment Law Project released a new report titled “Fairness Delayed: Ongoing Poverty at the Philadelphia International Airport” which examines the high cost of low wages at the airport. The new analysis found that workers at the airport lose $16 million in wages each year.
“Thousands of workers have been left behind by the city’s minimum wage standard with devastating results. More Philadelphians are left in poverty while taxpayers end up subsidizing poverty-level wages,” said Jack Temple, policy analyst for NELP.
“To truly resolve this problem, not just for today’s workers at the airport and in other city contracts but also for those who work under these models in the future, Philadelphia needs a permanent and just solution.”