(Fort Lauderdale) Fort Lauderdale airport workers celebrated a hard-fought victory when the Broward County Commission voted to extend the County’s Living Wage Ordinance—which sets wages at $11.68 with health benefits, $13.20 without—to include subcontracted airline workers.
“This is a great day in Broward County,” said Broward County Commissioner Dale V.C. Holness. “Today we will make things a little bit fairer for the hardworking men and women who make the airport run. But, it’s not just the worker who will benefit; the whole county wins as a result of today’s vote. When we enhance people’s lives, they become better employees. Turnover is less and the studies shows that. Service is better and that is crucial to our local economy,” said Holness.
“The Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport is owned by the us and benefits from public dollars,” said Commissioner Mark Bogen. “It is our duty to ensure that our tax dollars support the creation of good paying jobs. I am proud to have taken this important step in raising industry and job standards for our community.”
The amendment will affect 1,700 wheelchair attendants, lobby agents, security officers, cabin cleaners and other passenger service workers who currently earn an average of $8.35 an hour—with more than 83.2% of those workers relying on some form of public assistance to survive.
“I love what I do because I get to help all types of people, especially the elderly passengers,” said Gueldere Guerellis, a wheelchair attendant who works a second job to sustain his wife and three children.
“Sometimes the passengers tell me, ‘If it wasn’t for you, I don’t know how I could do it.’ Unfortunately, I can barely survive on what I earn. I work round the clock and don’t sleep because I’m always worried about being evicted or if my electricity will be shut off. A living wage will finally give me peace of mind and let me spend more time with my family,” he added.
Sandra Smith takes a bus two hours a day for her job as a wheelchair attendant, where she earns $5.00 an hour plus tips, and her second job as a cabin cleaner, where she earns $8.05. She spoke about the difficulties in trying to make ends meet on poverty wages.
“I work, on average, more than 50 hours a week, I still can’t afford to rent a simple one-bedroom apartment with my daughter,” said Sandra. “Many of us are one paycheck or one health bill away from total poverty. Earlier this year I was sick and had to go into the hospital for five days and I lost a whole week’s paycheck because I don’t get sick pay.”
This victory comes after years of rallies, protests, and strikes. It is part of a national movement to collectively organize and raise standards for airport workers, who have seen wages dwindle and benefits cut as a result of outsourcing to low-bid contractors.
From Boston to Philadelphia, New York, to Seattle, thousands of airport workers have won living wage increases, better benefits, and union rights. This is the first victory in a “right to work” state, Florida, which ranks 4th in income inequality, and whose low-wage workforce is largely made up of immigrants and people of color. A recent study shows that unionized immigrant workers earn 17% higher wages and are 22% more likely to have health insurance.
“As we take a moment to thank the Commission and savor this win, we know that ultimately we cannot rely solely on public policies to make airport jobs good jobs again,” said Helene O’Brien, Florida State Director for SEIU 32BJ. “Organizing collectively is what built the middle class. Corporations didn’t just decide to end child labor or give us the eight-hour workday. These victories were hard fought battles that we won by standing together and demanding justice.”
The coalition of workers, community supporters, SEIU Local 32BJ, and SEIU Florida also announced the next phase of the campaign, which is to guarantee access to health insurance, paid sick days, as well as a statewide $15 minimum wage.
“Moving forward, we will continue to fight for truly affordable health insurance, full time employment, and paid sick leave,” O’Brien added.
With more than 145,000 members in 11 states, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.
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