Airport workers demonstrate for pay increase, city charter change

Workers at Philadelphia International Airport rally to urge the city's voters to approve a question on the May 20 primary ballot that would increase the minimum wage for those employed by subcontractors to $10.88 an hour. Many now earn $7.25 an hour.
Workers at Philadelphia International Airport rally to urge the city's voters to approve a question on the May 20 primary ballot that would increase the minimum wage for those employed by subcontractors to $10.88 an hour. Many now earn $7.25 an hour. (LINDA LOYD / Staff)
Posted: April 13, 2014

Low-wage workers at Philadelphia International Airport urged Philadelphia voters Friday to approve a question on the May 20 primary ballot that would increase the minimum wage for employees hired by airport subcontractors to $10.88 an hour.

The workers, who earn an average of $7.85 an hour, rallied outside the airport's Terminal B carrying signs reading: "Don't leave us behind the Big Apple!"

After a heated campaign by airport workers in New York, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey recently asked four airlines - American, Delta, JetBlue, and United - at LaGuardia and Kennedy airports to grant an immediate raise of $1 an hour for workers earning less than $9. The raise will be phased-in to $10.10 an hour.

The wage upgrade - which will eventually apply to all Port Authority facilities, including Newark Liberty International Airport - came on the same day that President Obama announced in his State of the Union address that he was signing an executive order to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for future federal contract workers.

Philadelphia City Council in September unanimously approved a proposed City Charter change that would ask voters to extend the city's "living wage" requirements to subcontractors on municipal jobs.

The standards currently apply only to companies with direct city contracts. A city Law Department ruling last year said the charter does not give Council the authority to force the standard on subcontractors.

A coalition of labor, faith, and community groups has been outspoken on behalf of low-paid subcontracted employees at Philadelphia airport.

Onetha McKnight, an airport wheelchair attendant, spoke at the rally and said she makes $5.75 an hour, plus tips.

"It's really rough. I pray a whole lot," she said. "Anyone I come in contact with, I let them know: 'Go out and vote. This question is going to be on the ballot, and we are asking for your support.' "

Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr. sponsored a bill to put a charter-change amendment on the May primary ballot, allowing Philadelphia voters to decide whether the standards should extend to subcontractors.

The Nutter administration supported the "premise" of the charter change, but expressed concern about unintended consequences on some businesses, grant recipients, and social-service providers.

The living-wage standard requires city contractors to pay their employees $10.88 an hour, or 150 percent of the federal minimum wage, as well as paid sick time and health benefits if available to other workers in the company.


lloyd@phillynews.com215-854-2831

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