Philadelphia-An alarming new report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) “Soaring Poverty at the Philadelphia International Airport” finds that poverty is rampant for subcontracted workers at the Philadelphia International Airport.
“Philadelphia is the nation’s largest big city for poverty. It should come as no surprise that one in five low-wage Philly airport workers go hungry,” said Paul Sonn, Legal Co-Director of NELP. “The Philadelphia International Airport’s low-bid contracting system creates a race to the bottom that keeps workers in poverty and deprives Philadelphia of badly needed economic activity.”
“Soaring Poverty” was based on an in-depth survey of 200 sub-contracted workers at the Philadelphia International Airport and explores the working conditions, demographics, economic hardships and communities from which PHL airport workers hail.
George Walker, a cabin cleaner with Prospect, earns $8.00 per hour and continuously struggles to make ends meet.
“I am over 50 and tired of living in poverty. I am the only income earner in my family and it is hard to pay the bills. A living wage would mean that I would have more money to pay for medicine for my wife,” said Walker.
Onetha McKnight of Southwest Philadelphia has worked at the Philadelphia International Airport for six years and has never seen a raise.
“I started at $7 per hour and still make $7 per hour. I receive tips but tips are not guaranteed,” said McKnight. “I find it difficult to make ends meet on poverty wages. There’s not always enough left at the end of the month to pay my bills.”
Many of those who work at the airport aren’t actually employed by the airport or the airlines. Jobs that were once directly performed by airline employees have been contracted out to private contractors who pay low wages and don’t provide affordable benefits.
The report finds that contracted airport workers are overwhelmingly African American or African immigrants. Despite working full time, most families surveyed reported earning less than $16,000 per year.
“The March on Washington 50 years ago was a march for jobs and freedom for African Americans. Philadelphia’s airport workers, 85 percent of whom are African American, have the jobs but not the living wage or the potential for future earnings,” said Regine Metellus, COO and Vice President of The Urban League of Philadelphia.
Despite the fact that baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, sky caps and wheelchair attendants earn low wages, the report finds that the airline industry is thriving.
Among the report’s findings was the revelation that the average wage for subcontracted PHL airport workers is $7.85 per hour while the hourly wage of US Airways CEO, Doug Parker, is $2,640 per hour. US Airways also reported its highest annual profit ever in 2012.
The policy recommendations from NELP include increasing wages and benefits for airport workers by following the lead of cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Miami that have adopted wage and quality standards for all airport workers.
The report release comes days after the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee, chaired by Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, passed a lease with US Airways that leaves 2,000 airport workers stuck in poverty. Council still has an opportunity to amend the lease on the floor so that it includes living wage and other protections for subcontracted workers at the airport.
This morning, Councilman Goode Jr. announced that he would introduce legislation extending the Philadelphia 21st Century Minimum Wage and Benefits ordinance to city sub-lessees and subcontractors. The lease now goes to the full council for approval and a vote is anticipated on June 20.
“City Council still has a chance to make this right for the 2,000 airport workers who need a living wage, said Bishop Dwayne Royster of POWER. “We must take this opportunity to lift hard working Philadelphians out of poverty and turn low wage airport jobs into good jobs.”
With more than 125,000 members, including 10,000 in the Philadelphia area, 32BJ is the largest property services union in the country.
Key Findings: Soaring Poverty at the Philadelphia International Airport
1. Contracted airport workers are overwhelmingly black or African American. They are paid very low wages and receive few meaningful benefits.
• Most families reported earning less than $16,000 a year.
• 86 percent of surveyed workers are black or African American.
2. Poor working conditions mean contracted airport workers suffer severe economic hardships and have to rely on public assistance programs.
• Nearly 75 percent of surveyed workers reported trouble paying their bills.
• Almost a third missed work because they couldn’t afford transportation costs to and from PHL.
• More than one in five workers or their families went hungry last year because they couldn’t afford to buy enough food.
3. Airport workers live in communities with high rates of unemployment and poverty.
• While the national unemployment rate is 7.6 percent, unemployment is 15 percent in the communities where many PHL workers live.
• Similarly, the national poverty rate of 11.6 percent is dwarfed by the 27 percent rate in the top PHL worker neighborhoods.
4. Workers reported potential wage and hour and health and safety violations.
• Forty-four percent of surveyed workers reported not being paid fully, or at all, for time they worked before and/or after their shift in the last year.
• Nearly 29 percent reported not being paid time-and-a-half, or not being paid at all, for overtime worked in the last year.
• Over 37 percent reported that they were instructed by their manager or supervisor to report tips they did not receive.
• Of those workers who work with equipment or surfaces contaminated with bodily fluids, only about 14 percent reported receiving training on how to protect themselves and others from exposure.