On Thursday September 27, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey voted to raise wages to $19 by 2023 for all airport workers at JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports. The raise will constitute the highest minimum wage in the country and for New Jersey airport workers the new wage policy will give them an unprecedented $8.45 raise and parity pay with New York airport workers. It will also result in real gains for the New York airport workers themselves, who have been making $13.00 an hour.
This is a historic victory for the thousands of airport workers who in 2011, tired of working for poverty wages, spearheaded one of the nation’s most successful union organizing campaigns for respect, fair pay and union rights.
“We did this together, we fought for so long and we won!” said Gertrudes Lopez-Ortiz, a cabin cleaner at Newark Liberty International Airport who has marched, gone on strike and even been arrested as part of the airport workers’ campaign for better jobs and better airports. “Now it is a dream come true for me and my co-workers! I was here when the Port originally promised this in 2014. Our hard work, and the support of our brothers and sisters in 32BJ is paying off.”
While 14,000 32BJ airport members led the fight, the wage standards set by the Port Authority will cover some 40,000 contracted airport workers at the three NYC-area airports, including workers in other sectors like food-service and retail.
In the last few years, airport workers held marches, rallies, and strikes and even got arrested on Martin Luther King Day to demand their rights. They won MLK Day as a paid holiday and were able to get the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to raise their wages from $7.25 an hour to $10.45. For some it was the first raise they ever got at the airports. But Governor Christie, and his appointed Port Authority board members, blocked wage increases for airport workers as he and Governor Cuomo shared control of the Port Authority. Airport workers campaigned for and supported New Jersey’s current Governor Murphy and when he was elected last fall, airport workers were given new hope as he called for family-sustaining wages for the state’s low wage workers.
In 2016, about half of the New York and New Jersey contracted out passenger service airport workers, who had won union recognition with 32BJ, negotiated their first contract, which now provides important workplace rights and protections including seniority rules, scheduling protocols, disciplinary procedures and health and safety guidelines. As the demand for a union was won, workers turned to the Port Authority to raise wages across the board.
Today they celebrate the fulfillment of that dream, just as airlines like United are poised to fight back even harder, threatening to sue the Port Authority over the new $19 minimum wage and announcing firing a contractor this month that has resulted in layoffs for 800 of the workers who fought for the raise.
“This is an unprecedented win for 40,000 contracted airport workers in an ongoing campaign led by thousands of cabin and terminal cleaners, wheelchair attendants, baggage handlers, security and other contracted service workers who have won $15 an hour and the union lifting families and communities in both New York and New Jersey. They are part of a national movement of workers across this nation that are rising to demand their fair share and turn low-wage contracted jobs into family-sustaining jobs. New York and New Jersey airport workers have led the way and shown that when we work together in unity, we can win,” said 32BJ President Héctor Figueroa.
Workers cheered the news and said this is a win for them and their coworkers AND also for airline passengers.