We all know that food at the airport is expensive, but what if you were making poverty wages and had to pay for that food every day?
As The Port Authority is pouring billions into upgrading the physical assets of LaGuardia Airport, the subcontracted airport workers who keep the airports running are being left out of the modernization process. There are still more than 12,000 subcontracted airport workers in the New York region whose poverty wages mean they are struggling to pay for the basics like food.
On June 23 and 24, 2015 a food fair kicked off at LaGuardia Airport where The New York City Coalition Against Hunger provided screenings for airport workers to learn if they are eligible for food subsidies and Make the Road New York provided free meals for airport workers who often can’t afford lunch.
“I make $10.10 an hour as a baggage handler working for British Airways’ subcontractor Aviation Safeguards at LaGuardia Airport,” said Jordani Bueno. “There are so many times that I skipped meals because I couldn’t afford to eat or I ate junk food because that is all I could afford to buy. Until the Port Authority keeps its promise to raise our wages, it’s good to know I can get the safety net I really need.”
While 50% of airport workers in the region already rely on some form of public assistance, many screened at the food fair learned they qualify for additional food assistance under the current wage standards at the airports.
“If you’re working full-time you should be paid a living wage, it’s as simple as that,” said Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. “Hunger is a direct result of poverty, and if we lift people out of poverty, we can also drastically reduce hunger. We stand with airport workers organizing for a better life– it’s time to right a wrong and pay these workers what they’ve deserved all along.”
“We were appalled to hear that 1 in 5 airport workers have to skip meals because of the poverty wages they make,” said Meg Fosque, Lead Organizer at Make the Road New York. “We are serving food at the Airports Food Fair because we know that survival services like this are needed, but these hardworking New Yorkers deserve more. They deserve living wages so they will never have to wonder whether or not they can afford food again.”
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was supposed to release a better wage and benefits plan for airport workers last September, but have delayed for more than nine months. Elected officials – including NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, NY City Council Member and Chair of the Committee on Finance Julissa Ferreras and NY City Councilman Rory Lancman— lent their support to these airport workers, who have been calling on the Port Authority to finally lift them out of poverty with the release of this wage and benefits plan.
“Whether you’re a skycap, a baggage handler, or a cabin cleaner, an honest day’s work deserves an honest day’s pay. No one should put in a fair day’s work and still have to go on food stamps or other public assistance. It is time for the Port Authority to stand by their promises and give these workers the wages and benefits they deserve,” said NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman who attended the food fair on Wednesday.
“It is unjust that some airport workers have to choose between buying food, paying for rent and paying bills to survive in New York City because of their low wages,” State Senator Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) said in a statement. “Airport jobs are good jobs, and the workers should be compensated as such. We must make poverty wages, once and for all, a thing of the past. We cannot treat 21st Century workers as we did in the 19th Century. A full-time job with low wages makes it impossible to make ends meets.”
“Airport workers shouldn’t need to choose between paying their rent and buying groceries. While I appreciate the organizations that connect workers to necessary services, true responsibility lies with the Port Authority, which must require that all workers earn a living wage,” said NY City Council Member Rory Lancman, who attended the food fair on Tuesday.
With 145,000 members in eleven states and Washington, D.C., 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.