People rarely think of airports as engines of poverty-wage jobs. But many Floridians might be outraged to know that some wheelchair attendants at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport struggle on as little as $4.91 per hour if working in a “tipped” position and lack health insurance and paid sick time. That’s because as contracted airport service workers, they are excluded from the airport’s living wage law and are overwhelmingly black Caribbean immigrants and African-Americans.
Workers like Assade Vedrine, a single parent raising his son, far away from his wife and his other kids who are living in Haiti. Although he now earns minimum wage, he works two jobs at the airport because despite being labeled a full-time worker, he often doesn’t get full-time work. Even with two jobs, it is still difficult for him to keep up with the bills and is often scrabbling to take care of the other necessities.
Without employer-paid healthcare, Assade faces further setbacks when he gets injured or becomes sick. When he was involved in an accident in January that left him in a lot of pain, he had to miss work for about two weeks. He now gets periodic pains in his leg which means he can’t walk and must sit for a while. Assade’s still trying to bounce back from the accident because he was dropped by his insurance and had to go to a higher rate insurance company.
Amazingly, his spirits and attitude on the job remain high. “I enjoy my work because I often get self-satisfaction when I go out of my way to help passengers find their way to their destination, especially the elderly,” said Vedrine.” If this was one of my parents, I would want someone to look after them the way I’d look after them.”
Assade and his co-workers aren’t asking for much. “I would be very happy to receive a wage in which I can save some money to help bring the rest of my family to the United States,” Vedrine added. “We are fighting to keep the family together and I know with a decent salary I can get closer to my dream.”
That’s why unrest is growing among these workers because they can’t – and shouldn’t have to struggle to survive on these paltry wages. 32BJ is now preparing to campaign with FLL workers to urge the Broward County Commission to introduce and pass legislation ensuring all workers at the airport are paid a living wage.