Port Authority votes to raise airport workers’ wages to $19 an hour

After years of rallies and marches, workers at JFK and LaGuardia airports are finally on the verge of a wage increase to $19 an hour.
Photo by Bill Parry
By Bill Parry

They’ve rallied and marched, staged sit-ins and strikes since 2012 and finally airport workers at LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports have their eyes on the prize after the Port Authority recommended last week that the agency raise the minimum wage to $19 an hour by the fall of 2023.

While 14,000 baggage handlers, Skycaps, security officers, wheelchair agents, terminal and airplane cleaners led the fight, the wage standards set by the Port Authority will cover nearly 40,000 contracted workers at all three New York City-area airports, including workers in other sectors like food service and retail.

“This will change our lives and give our families brighter futures,” JFK security agent Canute Drayton said. “I have seen so many colleagues leave their airport jobs because they couldn’t afford to support their families on such low pay. Now I think they will stick around like me and they’ll be able to develop the experience and training to keep passengers safe and help them get to their destinations quickly and safely.”

In the last few years, airport workers have seen incremental improvements since they launched their campaign. In 2016, nearly half won union recognition with 32BJ SEIU, and negotiated their first contract, which now provides workplace rights and protections, including seniority rules, scheduling protocols, disciplinary procedures and health and safety guidelines.

“This is an unprecedented win for 40,000 contracted airport workers,” 32BJ President Hector Figueroa said. “Airport workers are on the front lines of ensuring safety-improving services at our airports. They greet passengers, clean the terminals and airplanes and load bags onto planes. In emergencies passengers often turn to these workers for help. That is why it is so important that we invest in them and in their training and retention. Providing family-sustaining wages will help keep more workers on the job longer and help them build their expertise to make airports safer and run smoother.”

Figueroa thanked Gov. Andrew Cuomo for prevailing on Albany lawmakers last year to gradually raise the state’s minimum wage toward $15 an hour.

“New York proudly set an example for the nation by raising the minimum wage to $15, yet the fight for economic justice for our working families continues, and we won’t stop until every New Yorker is paid the fair wages they deserve,” Cuomo said in a statement. “This action is about decency and respect, and by raising the minimum wage for the dedicated men and women who fuel our regional economy, New York will continue to serve as a beacon of progress and opportunity for all.”

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

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