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Mayor calls for fairer wage

By Bill Parry

Mayor Bill de Blasio expressed support for airport workers in their struggle against poor working conditions and unfair wages following a rally and protest on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The mayor says the Port Authority should intervene in the way contractors pay Skycaps, security personnel and cleaners at the three major airports.

“Folks have to make a living wage. They have to have decent benefits,” de Blasio said. “We depend on them for our safety, in particular obviously the security workers. I’ll certainly do all in my power to help them get it.”

The comment followed a rally and march to support airport workers Monday that led to the occupation of the 94th Street Bridge approach to LaGuardia Airport and the arrests of 32 union leaders, elected officials and clergy.

More than a thousand gathered at the airport to protest poor working conditions and unfair wages after over 2,000 airport workers had signed a petition demanding MLK Day as a paid holiday. When the Port Authority ignored the request., leaders from the Service Employees International Union called for the rally and the civil disobedience on the bridge.

Among the 32 arrested for failing to heed orders to disperse were U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Manhattan) and City Councilmen Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and Ruben Wills (D-Flushing). All were bused to the 115th Precinct, where they were given summonses and released.

“In New York City, it is impossible to raise a family, put food on the table and send your child to college on a minimum wage salary,” Van Bramer said. “It is a disgrace that employees at our city’s airports work tirelessly without health benefits and on minimum wage salaries.”

Van Bramer, the son of union parents, added, “My act of civil disobedience on the 94th Street Bridge outside of LaGuardia was out of solidarity with airport workers who are being treated unfairly. I support the workers’ efforts to unionize and believe wholeheartedly that their ongoing campaign to secure living wages is a fight worth waging.”

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) voiced her support during the rally, saying “the Council stands united to support you airport workers in your demand for dignified work and respect.”

Flanked by Councilmen I. Daneek Miller (D-Jamaica), Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) and Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria), the speaker added, “We have seen mobilization across this nation of fast food workers, car wash workers and now airport workers. We will ensure that we stand with you.”

Many of the workers shared their stories.

“We are fighting for our lives out here,” Lenora McKeever said.

An ID checker for PrimeFlight at LaGuardia, she claimed to have received only one raise in nine years at the airport.

“I spend so much time in Housing Court trying to keep from being evicted. It’s a struggle to keep a roof over my head,” she said.

Prince Jackson, a security officer at JFK said, “Four years ago I started making $8 an hour. I’m still making $8 an hour. It is not a living wage.”

All the workers are employed by private companies under contract with the Port Authority. Many of the elected officials at the rally cited record profits for the airlines as well as record numbers of passengers using JFK and LaGuardia as further reason to adjust the wages.

City Public Advocate Letitia James said, “We urge the Port Authority to do the right thing or there will be consequences. A new day has come to the city of New York. It’s time to end poverty wages in New York City.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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