Victory for Philadelphia airport workers: City Council passes bill to put living wage on the Spring ballot
Airport workers, community, faith and labor groups today are celebrating the 17-0 passage of a bill placing a living wage referendum on the Spring 2014 ballot. The referendum would amend the City's charter to include subcontracted workers, including 2,000 low-wage workers at the airport, in the City's 21st Century Minimum Wage and Benefits Ordinance.
"Today is a great day for Philadelphia and for workers at the airport," said Onetha McKnight, wheelchair attendant at the Philadelphia International Airport. "What this could mean for me is that I won't have to juggle my money as much and I can afford my medication. I'd like to thank Councilman Goode for stepping up and fighting for a living wage."
Airport workers and members of POWER, Fight for Philly and 32BJ SEIU packed the council chambers today in support of the bill. Bryan Thompson, baggage handler at the Philadelphia International Airport reminded Council of the difficulties minimum wage airport workers face.
"I had to move back in with my parents because there is no way that I could afford my own apartment on what I make at the airport," said Thompson. "I am stressed about money all of the time. And I know that without this bill, there's no hope for a raise in sight. My co-workers and I are realists. We understand one basic truth about working at the airport: If PrimeFlight and other subcontractors at the airport could legally pay us less, they would."
Following the unanimous vote, the packed crowd erupted in cheers.
"We commend Councilman Goode and all of Council for their efforts to extend the living wage to those who need it most," said Daisy Cruz, Assistant Director of 32BJ SEIU Mid-Atlantic District."Today's vote shows that City Council is willing to take the necessary steps to help hard-working Philadelphians lift themselves out of poverty."
32BJ SEIU, POWER and Fight for Philly plan to mobilize voters to vote 'yes' on the May ballot question and will advocate for measures that ensure it is implemented effectively and without loopholes.
"As a resident of Philadelphia I believe that the City has an obligation to the workers on projects funded by our tax dollars to pay a fair and living wage so that such workers - our neighbors – can take care of their families," said Deacon Carol Duncan of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church, a spokesperson for POWER.
Originally passed in 2005 by unanimous vote, the Philadelphia's 21st Century Minimum Wage and Benefits Standard requires by law that workers hired by the city or by companies with direct city contracts make 150 percent of federal minimum wage (or $10.88), receive paid sick time, and be offered health benefits if any other employees of the company receive them.
Councilman Goode lead the charge for the ballot referendum and was quick to note that today's vote is part of an ongoing fight to apply existing legislation.
"This is a question of authority, not policy. We've already established the policy. Now we need the chance to change the charter," said Councilman Wilson Goode Jr. "All 17 members of council did the right thing today and ultimately the voters will have their say."
With 145,000 members in nine states and Washington, D.C., including 22,000 in Pennsylvania, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.
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