July 24, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Will the roughly 12,000 contract employees subsisting on poverty wages at JFK and LaGuardia airports be the next group of service workers to achieve a $15 an hour minimum wage? The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey says it wants a newly-formed task force to look at the possibility of making that happen — but the union fighting on behalf of poorly-paid security officers, sky caps and wheelchair attendants isn’t popping any champagne corks just yet.
SEIU 32BJ welcomed this week’s announcement potentially paving the wave for contracted airport workers to soon join fast food workers in achieving the long-sought minimum wage hike — even as it was reminded that the Port Authority is already 10 months late in implementing its own plan for higher wages, saying it is “unclear what remains to be discovered after months of delay and a commissioned wage study.”
“We trust that this newly formed task force will come to a rapid and complete resolution to this long-delayed process,” the union said in a statement.
Hundreds of struggling airport workers were poised to strike on Wednesday night, before reaching a last minute deal with Aviation Safeguards in which the contractor agreed to quit hassling employees hoping to designate 32BJ as its elected representative in collective bargaining.
At the same time, Governor Cuomo’s specially convened Wage Board announced its support for a $15 minimum wage for hard-pressed fast food workers.
But despite the governor’s lofty rhetoric about the Empire State leading the way in the minimum wage fight, it now appears that workers will have to continue to fight tooth and nail for similar gains industry by industry.
Comments from Port Authority Chairman John Degnan in which the exec expressed concerns that increasing wages and benefits for airport workers might result in higher costs to the flying public immediately raised hackles.
“As the Port moves forward on a multi-million dollar plan to modernize LaGuardia and as JFK airport spends millions on a luxury animal kennel, concerns about passing costs associated with family-sustaining jobs onto passengers is disingenuous and misleading,” the 32BJ statement adds. “Under no circumstances should it be acceptable for anyone to work full-time and still be forced to rely on public assistance and live in poverty. The Port Authority has a responsibility to deliver on its promise and ensure the workers under its purview are able to live a decent life, not just one of survival.”
Half of all airport workers now qualify for some type of public assistance. Some are even forced to live in homeless shelters.