Port Authority chief urges hike in JFK, LGA workers’ wages

By Bill Parry

A union leader who spearheaded the recent fight for better wages and working conditions for airport workers is pleased that the head of the Port Authority has come out with his own call for higher wages.

Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye sent a letter Tuesday to the CEOs of several major airlines that operate out of Kenndy and LaGuardia demanding that workers making $9 an hour or less receive an immediate $1-per-hour increase.

The order comes after two weeks of intensifying pressure after nearly a thousand sky caps, cleaners and security workers rallied and marched on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A group of 32 lawmakers, union officials and members of the clergy were arrested during a civil disobedience that closed down the 94th Street Bridge leading into LaGuardia Airport.

Mayor Bill de Blasio followed up with a Jan. 21 vow to help get the workers a living wage, which was followed the next day by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s call for the Port Authority to find a short-term solution.

Hector Figueroa, president of Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, said, “Pat Foye’s letter is a promising step forward and marks the first real progress we have made in lifting thousands of contracted workers out of poverty.”

In addition, Foye’s letter called for the airlines to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a paid holiday. The Port Authority had ignored a petition that was presented to them in January, signed by 2,000 workers requesting the paid holiday and that is what led to the protest Jan. 13.

“We are glad Mr. Foye and the Port Authority have responded to the workers’ call for Martin Luther King Day to be a paid holiday and will be raising their wages to $10.10 an hour as an initial first step,” Figueroa said. “We have gotten to this point due to the courage of the contracted airport workers and their willingness to take action — including being arrested for civil disobedience at LaGuardia Airport on MLK Day.”

Meanwhile, Shareeka Elliott, a cleaner who works at Kennedy and a single mother of two, was the personal guest of U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) at Tuesday night’s State of the Union address. The senator invited Elliott after learning that she makes just $8 an hour working the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift before taking her daughters to school. Elliott was impressed with her first trip to Washington, D.C.

After meeting Schumer, Elliot said, “I hope to hear the president touch base on the struggles myself and my fellow airport workers are going through as far as the minimum wage.”

President Barack Obama did just that, calling for an across-the-board increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 from $7.25.

“In the coming weeks, I will issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour,” Obama said.

He added that to reach millions more, Congress would have to act.

“Say yes, give America a raise,” he said.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718.260.4538.

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