On Thursday afternoon – the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) voted to raise wages to $19 by 2023 for the 40,000 airport New York and New Jersey baggage handlers, security officers, wheelchair agents, terminal and airplane cleaners and other airport workers at JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports.
For New Jersey airport workers the new wage policy will give them an unprecedented $8.45 raise and parity pay with New York airport workers.
It will also result in real gains for the New York airport workers themselves, who have been making $13.00 an hour.
This is a historic victory for the thousands of airport workers who in 2012, tired of working for poverty wages, spearheaded one of the most successful union organizing campaigns for respect, fair wages and union rights since the creation of the fight for $15.
The 14,000 baggage handlers, skycaps, cleaners, security, wheelchair and passenger service workers at JFK, LaGuardia and Newark and members of 32BJ SEIU have been at the forefront in the fight for dignity and respect on the job and the professionalization of vital services at the region’s airports.
Airport service workers’ ubiquity and constant contact with passengers and other workers make them an integral part of the security and business and continuity apparatus.
“We did this together, we fought for so long and we won!” said Gertrudes Lopez-Ortiz, a cabin cleaner at Newark Liberty International Airport. “Now it is a dream come true for me and my co-workers! I was here when the Port originally promised this in 2014. Our hard work, and the support of our brothers and sisters in 32BJ is paying off.”
In 2016, about half of the New York and New Jersey airport workers, who had won union recognition with 32BJ, negotiated their first contract, which now provides important workplace rights and protections including seniority rules, scheduling protocols, disciplinary procedures and health and safety guidelines.
As the demand for a union was won, workers turned to the Port Authority to raise wages across the board and provide needed corrective action to the low-road airport subcontracting system that has rewarded competitive contractors who provide low bids using low wages and non-existent benefits.
While 14,000 workers led the fight, the wage standards set by the Port will cover some 40,000 contracted airport workers at the three NYC-area airports, including workers in other sectors like food-service and retail.
“This is an unprecedented win for 40,000 contracted airport workers in an ongoing campaign led by thousands of cabin and terminal cleaners, wheelchair attendants, baggage handlers, security and other contracted service workers who have won $15 an hour and the union lifting families and communities in both New York and New Jersey.
They are part of a national movement of workers across this nation that are rising to demand their fair share and turn low-wage contracted jobs into family-sustaining jobs. New York and New Jersey airport workers have led the way and shown that when we work together in unity, we can win,” said 32BJ president Héctor Figueroa. “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 into 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 our airports safer and run smoother.
“We want to thank Governor Cuomo for his steadfast support and actions over the years on behalf of airport workers and Governor Murphy for taking action early in his administration.
“The Authority board members should also be commended for listening to the workers’ concerns and for putting in place a sensible wage policy that will help make our airports safer and better. We look forward to continue this partnership and make these jobs and our airports even stronger.”
Workers cheered the news and said this is a win for them and their coworkers but also for airline passengers.
“This will change our lives and give our families brighter futures,” said Canute Drayton, a security agent at JFK. “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 and like me they’ll be able to develop the experience and training to keep passengers safe and help them get to their destinations quickly and efficiently.”
In the last few years, airport workers held marches, rallies, and strikes and even got arrested on Martin Luther King Day to demand their rights. They won MLK Day as a paid holiday and were able to get the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to raise their wages from $7.25 an hour to $10.20. For some it was the first raise they ever got at the airports.
But Governor Christie, and his appointed Port Authority board members, blocked wage increases for airport workers as he and Governor Cuomo shared control of the Port Authority. Airport workers campaigned for and supported New Jersey’s current Governor Murphy and when he was elected last fall, airport workers were given new hope as he called for family-sustaining wages for the state’s low wage workers.
With all airport workers benefiting from the Port Authority’s new wage and benefits plan, airport workers will now set their sights on organizing the remaining minority of 14,000 airport subcontracted workers into their union 32BJ.