Many passenger service workers at the Philadelphia International Airport do not reap the benefits of working at the region’s economic powerhouse despite performing vital services that make the airport run, according to findings in a new report by the grassroots group Fight for Philly.
Fight for Philly, which seeks to empower Philadelphia families to take action in their own communities, is releasing today “Raising the Bar: Ensuring That Airport Expansion Lifts All of Philadelphia.” The report offers prescriptions for the economic health of the city and region that include raising wages and benefits for these low-income airport workers.
The airport, a major economic engine for the city and region, supports over 141,000 jobs in the Philadelphia region and brings more than $14 billion in economic activity to the area, according to “Raising the Bar.” But, to cut costs, airlines at the airport long ago outsourced passenger service jobs to low-bid contractors. Take US Airways, the dominant carrier at the airport, as an example. It boasted record profits of over $306 million for just the second quarter this year.
As powerful interests in Washington, D.C., debate the so-called fiscal cliff that the nation’s economy is on while resisting making the rich pay their fair share of taxes, airport workers who provide these vital services to airlines—cleaning terminals and aircraft, pushing wheelchairs, handling baggage, and performing security services to keep passengers safe—make as little as $7.25 an hour with no access to affordable health benefits, including sick days.
The result is that workers earn so little they are unable to provide for their families and some even have to resort taxpayer-funded public assistance for rent, health care and food.
Juan Lantigua, a security officer for Aviation Safeguards, makes $8 an hour with no benefits, which is a dicey situation for a diabetic.
“My family relies on public health insurance and food stamps to survive,” he said. “I was recently in the hospital and have thousands of dollars in bills that I can’t pay. If my health issues aren’t managed I’m dead and my wife and daughter will be on the street. We deserve time off, benefits, and better pay.”
A key recommendation of “Raising the Bar” is to implement at the airport the 21st Century Minimum Wage and Benefits Standard, the city living wage law that guarantees that workers hired by the city or by companies with direct city contracts make 150 percent of the federal minimum wage, or $10.88, plus paid sick days. Doing so would result in increased earnings and more jobs for all Philadelphians, according to the report.
“We’re looking to make this a first-class airport,” said Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, chairman of the Transportation Committee. “I think the expansion is a great opportunity to provide quality jobs and living wages that enable Philadelphians to support their families.”
Fight for Philly is part of a coalition of community groups, including Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower & Rebuild (POWER), UNITE HERE and SEIU 32BJ to join Philadelphia airport workers at a community forum for good jobs at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 17 at the Grace Christian Fellowship, 6208 Grays Avenue, Philadelphia.