Newark, NJ– Elected leaders and clergy joined the workers on a march today to the Newark Liberty International Airport’s hub of United Airlines, which has 70% of passenger traffic at the airport, to call on the carrier lead by example and help the workers attain economic fairness and affordable benefits.
“It is unfair to sentence residents of our communities to poverty just to assuage the profit needs of corporations,” Newark Mayor Luis Quintana said. “I don’t need to tell you that Newark Airport workers do the same jobs as their New York airports’ counterparts. Yet, as things stand, we stand to lose out when the pay raises proposed by the Port Authority go into effect for New York workers. All because our own governor and his appointees to the port have decided to be a roadblock to progress.”
Elected state legislators plan to lead a similar delegation to Trenton on Thursday to ask Gov. Christie to follow New York’s lead in allowing New Jersey workers to get the wage increases proposed for New York airport workers.
When the Port Authority recently demanded that airlines and their contractors immediately grant $1 hourly raise to the lowest paid New York airport workers with an eventual phase-in to $10.10, Newark airport workers were left out of the proposal. The proposal tracks closely with President Obama’s call in the State-of the-Union Address for an increase in the federal minimum wage. Obama said he would issue an executive order making that the minimum wage for all federal contracted service work and he urged state and local government to follow his example.
The Port’s demand, issued by Patrick Foye, the bi-state agency’s executive director, also set in motion a process to address the issues of wages and benefits for the more than 8,000 passenger service workers at New York airports. He even asked employers at the airports to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a paid holiday for airport workers, and grant the benefit retroactive to this year’s MLK Day, which fell on Jan. 20.
Dozens of Newark Liberty International Airport workers were among the almost 1,000 people who engaged in a Martin Luther King Day protest, including civil disobedience leading to the arrest of 32 political, religious and community leaders, on Jan. 20. They occupied a bridge into LaGuardia Airport as part of a demand that the Port Authority fix the problem of poverty wages paid to passenger service workers. Little did the Newark workers know that when the bi-state agency finally answered their call, Port Authority officials on the New Jersey side of the Hudson, appointees of Gov. Chris Christie, would balk at lifting New Jersey workers out of poverty.
Last week, Delta Air Lines, the second largest carrier in the New York area, said it would give its contractors money to pay the proposed raises and grant the workers MLK Day as a paid holiday, retroactive to this year’s holiday. United Airlines, the leading carrier in the region, and American Airlines and JetBlue have yet to indicate if they plan to follow Delta’s example.
Demetrius DeBiase, a baggage handler for a contractor hired by United Airlines, is questioning why Gov. Christie would stand with corporations against people of the state.
“It gets hard trying to make ends meet on minimum wage, to try to pay your bills and take care of your family,” DeBiase said. “Christie keeps saying he takes care of his people. Then why isn’t he taking care of us?”
Newark airport sits on patches of lands in Newark and Elizabeth, surrounded by Harrison, Kearny, East Orange, Irvington, Hillside, Orange, Belleville, North Arlington, South Orange, Bloomfield, Jersey City, Union, Bayonne, and West Orange. These municipalities—the downtown and city centers of which are within 6 miles of the airport—supply a large pool of Latino and African American workers.
“Why won’t Gov. Christie and his appointees on the Port Authority want this for people in our state?” asked Kevin Brown, 32BJ SEIU vice president and the union’s New Jersey state director. “It’s a proven fact that giving our people this pay raise will grow the economy in this region because people will spend that money.”
In speeches, press releases and statements, New Jersey leaders are leaving no doubt they support the struggle by passenger service workers at Newark Airport to shed the yoke of poverty wages and inadequate to non-existent benefits.
U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, called on Christie and David Samson, the governor’s appointed chairman of the Port Authority Board of Commissioners, to follow the president’s example by allowing the proposals by the Port Authority’s New York officials to take effect for residents of New Jersey.
“Enter into good faith negotiations to raise standards further, including providing health benefits, paid sick leave and come to an agreement within 90 days,” the senators said in their letter, again tracking closely with the proposals for workers at New York airports.
With more than 145,000 members in 11 states and Washington D.C., including 10,000 members in New Jersey, 32BJ is the largest property service union in the country. The union’s campaign to raise security industry standards has led to higher wages, more benefits and professional training for over 10,000 security officers.