Worker-rights group wants airport wages raised

International Airport skycaps George Hill (left) and Angelo Reid do not work for the city or US Airways, but for a subcontractor. Activists held a prayer vigil at City Hall over wage standards.
International Airport skycaps George Hill (left) and Angelo Reid do not work for the city or US Airways, but for a subcontractor. Activists held a prayer vigil at City Hall over wage standards. (MATT ROURKE / AP)
Posted: May 18, 2013

Community activists and an interfaith group want Philadelphia City Council to amend a lease agreement between the city and US Airways Group to boost the salary of 1,500 low-wage airport workers and require future hiring for ground-service jobs to come from neighborhoods around Philadelphia International Airport.

Several dozen clergy and members of Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower, and Rebuild (POWER) held a prayer vigil Thursday outside Mayor Nutter's office demanding that the interests of Philadelphia's dominant airline not be put above the needs of skycaps, aircraft cabin cleaners, and wheelchair attendants, who earn poverty wages from subcontractors with low-bid airline contracts.

US Airways and the Nutter administration in January announced terms of a two-year lease extension that would allow for $734 million in capital investment at the airport.

The lease must be approved by Council, which has until June 30, after which - without a new lease - US Airways and other airlines would have no contract and could give the city 30 days' notice that they were leaving.

POWER representatives met with Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who will introduce a bill outlining the lease. POWER made five requests, including that the city's "living-wage" standard, now in effect for many companies with city contracts, be enforced for low-wage airport service jobs.

The workers do not work for the city or US Airways, but are employed by a subcontractor, PrimeFlight Aviation Services of Nashville.

"The lease extension is going to get done," Councilman James F. Kenney said, and "anyone who puts us in a position to jeopardize that, or diminish Philadelphia as a hub, is very shortsighted."

The city hopes the pending merger of US Airways and American Airlines will bring more flight connections that will benefit the Convention Center, hotels, and tourism. Kenney said he favored an addendum, or attachment, to the lease supporting workers' right to unionize without recrimination. "I do not favor opening up the lease," he said. "I don't think we can do that."

The "living-wage" law, drafted by Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr. and adopted in 2005, has been interpreted by the city administration as not applying to subcontractors, Goode said.

US Airways, in a statement, expressed confidence that the lease with the Division of Aviation "will be approved by City Council." The $734 million in new capital investments is in addition to $250 million in capital projects approved by the airline in January 2011 and "as of yet unspent," the statement said.

Partnering with the city on these projects, the statement continued, "is critical to creating a better customer experience at US Airways' largest international gateway and also to the airport's long-term ability to compete with other hubs across the country."

US Airways and other airlines, it said, "spent several months negotiating directly with the city on the lease extension; this is the agreement that should be passed and the only agreement supported by US Airways, as well as the other carriers serving Philadelphia."


Contact Linda Loyd at 215-854-2831 or lloyd@phillynews.com.

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