Historic Gains for New York and New Jersey Airport Workers
Starting about six years ago, about 15,000 subcontracted airport workers at LaGuardia Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport and the John F. Kennedy International Airport started organizing for a union, higher wages and benefits with 32BJ SEIU. The historic campaign has been wildly successful, as 8,000 low-wage workers organized themselves into 32BJ SEIU and nearly doubled the minimum wage at the airports.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs LaGuardia, the John F. Kennedy and Newark Liberty international airports and has long prided itself on being our region’s economic “engine of growth,” will vote on June 28, 2018 on a proposal to make stepped increases in the minimum wage at all three airports. If passed, the proposal will cover 40,000 low-wage workers overall and raise wages to $19 per hour by 2023.
A new report, “Restoring Altitude: Economic Impacts of the Port Authority Minimum Wage Proposal,” show the economic impacts the proposed wage increases would have on the region’s economy, if it becomes a reality.
Most contracted out New York airport workers currently earn $13 an hour, thanks to progressive minimum wage increases towards $15 for the entire state, while the port minimum in Newark Liberty remains at just $10.45 per hour for the same work. If the proposed Port Authority wage passes, both New York and New Jersey airport workers will be earning the $19 an hour minimum wage by 2023, resulting in additional $431.6 million in increased annual household earnings.
According to census data, considered one of the more conservative estimates, 79 percent of the lowest paid workers are non-white and 85 percent of covered workers at the Port Authority are supporting families as well as themselves. The increased annual spending resulting from workers’ wage increases will support over 2,700 added jobs in the regional economy and sales to local businesses will grow by $465.1 million. Federal tax revenue will also rise with these added sales, generating over $43.7 million more a year for public services. State and local tax revenue will increase by $33.7 million a year.
Workers who already make more than the new proposed minimum wage level are also likely to receive wage increases. This includes supervisors of affected workers and other workers in higher-paid occupations. This ripple effect is estimated to benefit an additional 20 percent of workers, enlarging the total economic impacts even further.
LaGuardia Airport Wheelchair Attendant
The raise to $19 an hour will give me peace of mind. Right now, I have two jobs and I have to rush from one job to the other. I will like to get an apartment and be able to send my kids to college.
Baggage handler at Newark Liberty International Airport
“I work as a baggage handler at Newark Airport. The raise to $19 an hour will help me pay my bills on time and help me support my grandmother.”
Wheelchair Attendant at LaGuardia Airport for two years
“It’s a hard job but I love it because I love helping passengers. Part of my responsibilities is to make sure passengers are comfortable and ok to travel. My experience is helping me to be more patient with passengers, especially older travelers. The $19 an hour will help me go back to school and get an apartment.”
What More Needs to be Done
While the proposed wage increase will transform the lives of airport workers for better, these workers need more resources to survive in the New York-New Jersey region. The metro area has the nation’s highest cost-of-living, starting with housing. Nearly half of the workers covered by the wage increases are rent burdened—paying more than 30 percent or more of their income for housing—and, as good as wage increase, it is not nearly enough. Over one-fifth are severely rent burdened, paying over 50 percent of income for housing.
New York and New Jersey airport workers need more than wage increases to survive. They need a voice in the workplace, good health care and other benefits, benefits that are most often obtained through collective bargaining agreements. The best vehicle for obtaining this is through union membership where, over time, they could bargain for wages and benefits that will secure a hold for them in the middle class.
LaGuardia Airport Wheelchair Attendant
“$19 an hour will help improve the atmosphere at the airport. My co-workers won’t have to go get second jobs. If I get $19 an hour, I can help my kids to go to college. I owe rent to the landlord. Such a raise will also ensure I am not in that kind of situation.”
Cleaner at Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport
“I am a cleaner at Terminal 4 at JFK Airport. The raise to $19 an hour, when we get it, will help my family a lot. It means I will be able to afford my rent. $19 an hour will give me and my co-workers power and energy to do a better job.”
Newark Liberty International Airport Passenger Escort
“It’s ironic that I work at an airport, but I’ve never had enough money to travel anywhere. With the $19 wage increase, I would be able to take my 15-year-old granddaughter to Disneyworld: a dream for both of us. We would also be able to live more comfortably. For me, it means not having to worry about choosing between paying for my medicine for multiple sclerosis and paying transportation.”