Friday June 5, 2015 — On May 28, The Port Authority of NY and NJ Board announced the winner of a multi-billion dollar rehabilitation project for LaGuardia Airport. As lawmakers in both New York and New Jersey criticize the new renovation plan, some of the people who spend the most time at the region’s airport are voicing a different concern.
While the Port Authority has finally moved forward on modernizing what Vice President Joe Biden famously deemed “a third world airport,” a concrete plan for improving working standards for the regions 12,000 subcontracted airport workers has been put on hold for nearly nine months.
“We service some of the busiest airports in the country, but are not given the pay we need to take care of ourselves and our families. Meanwhile, millions of dollars are going to be spent to modernize the airports and make them more beautiful? It’s ridiculous,” said Juan Chapman, an Aviation SafeGuards security officer at LaGuardia airport. “I don’t want to do anything extravagant, I just want to be able to pay my bills and take care of my family. By giving airport workers higher wages the Port Authority would be helping not only airport workers, but our families and our communities as well.”
There are 12,000 subcontracted airport workers in New York and New Jersey who have been fighting for the past 3 years for higher wages, benefits and the right to union representation. They are part of a growing mass movement of airport workers who have been organizing in cities around the country and have joined the Fight for $15 movement calling for a living wage. While the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has raised airport workers’ wages to $10.10, too many are still living below the poverty line with little or no benefits. Despite billions of dollars in taxpayer investment to make airports into hubs of prosperity, the 12,000 subcontracted out airport workers in New York and New Jersey are living on the brink, struggling to make ends meet and are forced to rely upon taxpayer-funded programs.
To voice their concern, more than 500 airport workers, elected officials— including Senator Charles Schumer , NYC Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, NYC Councilman Daniel Garodnick and Councilman Ben Kallos – clergy members, low wage workers and other community supporters rallied outside of the PANYNJ board meeting to demand the Port Authority immediately release its promised wage and benefits plan in order to fully to modernize the airports and lift airport workers out of poverty.
“Today, the Port Authority is talking about modernizing the airport . . . That’s a good thing,” said Senator Charles Schumer during the rally. “But that’s only half the picture. What about modernizing the working conditions — the wages, the benefits — for all the people that work there at the same time?”
Other elected officials sent words of encouragement for the airport workers’ rally.
“I thank 32BJ for leading the fight to urge the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to give airport workers a raise. I am proud to join them again to demand higher wages and benefits for the workers who deserve to support their families, contribute to our economy, and plan for a brighter future,” said Congressman Charles B. Rangel in a statement.
“New York City’s airport workers deserve more than starvation wages,” said New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. “They have a right to make a decent living, feed their families and climb the ladder into the middle class. We stand together today–united for improved working conditions, good benefits and the opportunity for airport employees to build a better economic future.”
In order to fully bring LaGuardia airport into the 21st century, we must not only pay attention to the buildings and runways but also to the men and women who keep the airports running and who affect passenger experience from curbside to takeoff.
“A 21st century airport should be an engine of an economy that works for all, not a hub of poverty and desperation. The Port Authority has prioritized a plan that would increase profits at the airports, while leaving the people who keep the airport running unattended to,” said Hector Figueroa President of 32BJ SEIU. “But we cannot claim to have a 21st century airport while workers toil under 19thcentury wages and working conditions. If the Port Authority wants to make the regions airports truly modern, the board must increase airport workers’ wages and benefits now.”
With 145,000 members in eleven states and Washington, D.C., 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.