September 27, 2018; New York Times
As many as 40,000 airport workers are now on a path to earn at least $19 an hour, the highest minimum wage target set by any public agency in the country, reports Patrick McGeehan in the New York Times. McGeehan indicates that the pay increase “was approved unanimously by the commissioners of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.” The increase will be phased in over five years.
“The vote by the Port Authority board came after several months of deliberation and years of pleading and pressure from unionized airport workers,” McGeehan adds.
The Port Authority operates three metro New York airports: LaGuardia Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.
“The staggered wage increase will apply to most workers at those airports,” McGeehan says, “including baggage handlers, cabin cleaners and caterers.” Hector J. Figueroa, president of Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, which represents many of the workers, is celebrating, since $19 an hour is “the highest targeted minimum wage anywhere in the country.”
The biggest beneficiaries are workers at the Newark airport, who have typically earned less than their New York City counterparts. “Under New York law,” McGeehan points out, “the workers at LaGuardia and Kennedy Airports, like many other workers in the state, already earn at least $13 an hour. That floor will rise to $15 on December 31st.”
The commission’s vote to phase in a $19-an-hour minimum wage at the airport by 2023 was backed by a 123-page document titled Airport Worker Wages Analysis and Justification. The report notes that:
About 20 percent of contracted service employees at the Port Authority’s Airports now live below a regionally adjusted poverty line and have been forced to rely on government-sponsored food subsidies or food stamps. This means they are less likely to stay in their jobs long enough to be properly trained and vetted and are more susceptible to bribery and compromise. It also means that the Port Authority’s workers are less able to respond effectively to winter storms, hurricanes, and other inclement weather. And studies show that this turnover means that workers are less likely to avoid workplace injuries and damage to expensive equipment, and less able to provide the high levels of customer service that the public has a right to expect.
The Port Authority’s chairman, Kevin O’Toole, and its executive director, Rick Cotton, say they expect their action to withstand any legal challenges from contractors. “It is our anticipation that within 35 days, there’ll be a minimum-wage increase,” says O’Toole.
The phase-in schedule for the new minimum wage is as follows:
|Airport||Nov. 2018||Sept. 2019||Sept. 2020||Sept. 2021||Sept. 2022||Sept. 2023|
Here at NPQ, we have regularly called for the elimination of wage ghettoes, an issue that has been especially challenging in care-related fields like childcare, home healthcare, and direct care for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Sometimes, the reason given for maintaining poverty-level wages is that nonprofit budgets simply won’t allow for more sustainable wages to be paid. But, as the report from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey points out, failing to pay sustainable wages can be even more expensive, as it undermines the ability to maintain a motivated and stable workforce. Often paying higher wages is not simply the morally right thing to do, but an important strategy for achieving mission-related goals.—Steve Dubb