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By Kalena Thomhave | Sep 27, 2018
Good news has been a little thin this week, but here’s something decidedly positive: Today, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey approved a raise for approximately 40,000 airport workers at Newark, JFK, and LaGuardia airports. By 2023, airport workers, who include workers like cabin cleaners, baggage handlers, and wheelchair attendants, will receive a minimum wage of $19 per hour. That will be the highest targeted minimum wage in the country.
“I’m feeling good—real good,” says Yasmeen Holmes, who works in queue management at Newark. “We won, finally.”
Just seven years ago, workers were making the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, says Rob Hill, vice president of 32BJ Service Employees International Union, which represents 10,000 workers at the three airports. “We had to do the hard work of organizing a union,” says Hill. “Rallies and leaflets and marches. [Workers] got arrested for blocking bridges and roads. We had, I think, 25 strikes.”
The union has been pressuring the Port Authority to raise the wage for years. A system of subcontracting kept wages low as companies bid against one another, aiming to offer the lowest price for work. In recent years, the union pushed the Port Authority to raise wages from the federal level up to $10.45 an hour at Newark and at least $13 an hour at JFK and LaGuardia. Over the next five years, these wages will rise to a $19 minimum.
I reported on Wednesday how airport workers around the world plan to protest during a global day of action on Tuesday, October 2. Airport workers are frequently forced to work for low wages and few or no benefits, even as airline profits skyrocket (this year, worldwide profits are expected to reach $38.4 billion). The high turnover of these jobs not only threatens workers’ economic security; it threatens airport safety and security. The New York and New Jersey Port Authority’s announcement is sure to be a rallying point for airport workers next week during the worldwide demonstrations.
“I feel like I can breathe,” says Donna Hampton, a security officer at JFK. Hampton, who described having to stagger her rent payments, says she is looking forward to being able to pay her rent in full. The fight for a living wage “was long and hard fought—but we never gave up.
“Honestly, I can sleep better,” she says. “It’s like a rebirth.”