NEWARK, NJ—Just days after New Jersey voted for an increase in the minimum wage, community leaders and local clergy joined aircraft cabin cleaners and supporters at a rally this Friday to raise the alarm over cycle of falling wages for low-wage airport service workers that has been going on for more than a decade.
“A dollar bump will help me a lot. Groceries, phone bills, you name it. But even with the increase in the minimum wage, I´m still far from the $10.50 I was making 11 years ago doing the same job at the airport,” said Rassan Roane, a cabin cleaner for Primeflight Aviation Services who has cleaned planes at Newark Airport for different contractors since 2001.
According to Course Correction, a new UC Berkeley study on the negative impact of airport service outsourcing in workers’ wages, airport-related workers saw real hourly wages fall by an average of 15 percent from 2002 to 2012. The report also notes that, while the total number of workers in air transport-related industries has declined since 2001, the share of outsourced workers grew from 19 percent to 26 percent by 2011.
“Tens of thousands of contracted airport workers – many of whom live within five miles of Newark International Airport in the city’s highest-poverty wards – struggle to make ends meet for themselves and their families. To stretch their income, many skip meals, wear hand-me-down clothes and rely on public assistance to supplement their skimpy earnings,” said Pastor Joe Carter from the New Hope Baptist Church. “These are not just statistics. They are real people who work in the shadows and struggle just to get by.”
With wages as low as $7.25 an hour and with no health insurance, many airport workers can barely cover the basic needs of their families. At Newark Airport, airlines and their contractors profit under a business model that requires the workers to labor in a shadow economy – having no job security, working for minimum wage and lacking even basic benefits like health insurance or paid sick time.
“As a regional economic engine, the airport should benefit everybody not just airlines and contractors that profit under a business model that is fundamentally unfair,” said Kevin Brown, New Jersey State Director of 32BJ SEIU one of the largest unions of property service workers in the country.
With more than 145,000 members, SEIU 32BJ is the largest property services union in the country.
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