Working While Hungry at the Airport

Working While Hungry at the Airport

(Fort Lauderdale) State Representative Hazel Rogers, Commissioner Dale Holness, and other supporters joined airport workers at a rally today in support of extending Broward County’s Living Wage Ordinance to subcontracted airline workers. The event was held in conjunction with a Public Assistance Benefits Fair, to help workers that earn poverty wages access government assistance programs.

“Many airport workers are paid so poorly that they must work multiple jobs or rely on public assistance just to survive,” said Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness. “This is unconscionable. We should ensure that the hard-working FLL workers who take our bags, clean our bathrooms, provide security, assist wheelchair bound passengers, and clean the aircrafts make a fair and decent livable wage so that they can support themselves and their families.”

Currently, more than 1,200 airline-contracted workers are excluded from Broward County’s $13.20 Living Wage Ordinance. These wheelchair attendants, skycaps, security agents, checkpoint workers and others earn an average of $8.14 per hour. Salaries are so low that an estimated 29% of workers at FLL are eligible for government assistance programs.

Some of these airport workers were helped today by Catalyst Miami and Hispanic Unity of Florida, who provided the eligibility screening for government programs including, nutritional benefits, low cost health care, and assistance in paying their energy bills.

Sandra Smith, a wheelchair attendant who works for two airline contractors, G2 Secure Staff and Eulen America, takes a 2 hour bus ride every day to the airport, where she earns a little over $8.00 an hour. Today she learned that she might qualify for food stamp (SNAP) benefits and possibly other programs.

“We are human beings. We cannot survive on the wages we are earning,” said Sandra who can only afford to live in a one-room apartment with her daughter. “Every time I try to look for an apartment, the rental managers ask me for my pay stubs. They always want to know how will I be able to feed my family after I pay the rent. I work more than 50 hours a week. There is no reason why I shouldn’t be able to afford an apartment, buy food, and pay my bills.”

The Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is one of the most important economic engines in South Florida. It is responsible for 135,000 jobs and has an estimated annual economic impact of about $10.6 billion. And yet, unbeknownst to most Floridians, the airport has a shadow economy in which hundreds of workers struggle with poverty wages and little or no benefits.

That’s because the airlines–who are earning record breaking, billion dollar profits–use low-bid contractors who routinely cut costs on the backs of employees.

“I work hard lifting and moving heavy suitcases for passengers all day and yet I need two jobs just to make ends meet,” said Newton Ingram, a said Newton Ingram, a skycap who works for G2 Secure Staff, which services Southwest and Virgin America Airlines.

“Airport jobs used to be good jobs. This is no longer the case. I earn $5.00 an hour plus tips. My wife and I help take care for my mother in law, who has expensive medical bills. Somehow we are making it work, but just barely. What if I get sick? What if my mother in law’s health care becomes more expensive? Earning a living wage would mean piece of mind and the knowledge that my work is valued,” Ingram added.

Broward County Commissioners introduced a bill in May to extend the County’s Living Wage ordinance to include airport workers, as well as commissioned a study on the issue. Two more motions are needed in order to advance the measure. Advocates say once this loophole is closed, it will inject an additional $14 million per year into Broward’s economy and communities.

 

With 145,000 members in eleven states, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.

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