The Port Authority Operations Committee voted unanimously to develop a policy to mandate wage increases and benefits for workers at all Port Authority facilities, across the entire geography of the agency, including Newark Liberty International Airport.
Some 12,000 subcontracted airport service workers at Newark, JFK and LaGuardia who provide crucial services such as cabin cleaning, terminal security, baggage handling, wheelchair assistance and sky cap services struggle on or barely above minimum wage or even less for tipped workers and lack basic benefits like affordable health insurance, paid holidays or paid sick time. Many of the workers often need public assistance to make ends meet.
The workers at the three airports have been organizing for more than two years, petitioning employers, airlines and terminal operators, holding rallies and demanding improved working standards that allow them to live with dignity.
“I just want to be able to support myself and my family. That’s all anyone wants,” said Newark Airport baggage handler Demetrius DeBiase. “I work hard, and deserve basic dignity and respect.”
DeBiase said he’s hopeful that, with the board’s action, United would soon join the process and require his employer, Huntleigh Corp., to begin implementing raises for workers at Newark.
After a MLK Day march of nearly 1,000 workers on a bridge leading to LaGuardia Airport, Port Authority’s Executive Director Patrick Foye sent a letter to the chief executive officers of the four major airlines — Delta, American, United and JetBlue — demanding that they and their contractors:
- give contracted passenger service workers at John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport who make $9 or less an immediate $1-an-hour raise with a phase-in to $10.10;
- recognize Martin Luther King Day as paid holiday, retroactive to this year’s holiday;
- work toward “providing an improved wage and benefits package to the thousands of hard-working men and women” at the airports, developing a plan within 90 days.
But because of a peculiarity of the agency—run jointly by Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey—his letter only applied to Kennedy and LaGuardia airports and excluded Newark Liberty International Airport.
Delta was the first to sign on and their contracted workers began receiving the dollar raise on March 1. American soon followed. JetBlue balked and United, which is the dominant carrier in the region, remains silent on the proposals.
32BJ SEIU President Hector Figueroa welcomed the board’s move and called it a heartening step forward in a process initiated by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Executive Director Foye.
“We’re glad to see the Port Authority moving in a positive direction and building on the proposal beginning to be implemented at Kennedy and LaGuardia airports. This move has the potential to lift standards and improve the lives of thousands of contracted airport workers across the metropolitan region,” Figueroa said. “The Port recognizes the importance of working in concert on both sides of the river; this is good practice for workers, for the agency, and for the millions of New York and New Jersey residents who pass through Port-overseen sites across the two states.”