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Airport workers, elected officials rally around ‘poverty wages’

Stephon Johnson | 7/2/2015, 12:45 p.m.
A different kind of food fair happened in Queens last week.
Airport

A different kind of food fair happened in Queens last week.

Last week, members of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger participated in a food fair at LaGuardia Airport, providing screenings to airport workers to learn if they’re eligible for food subsidies. Members of Make the Road New York also provided free meals for airport workers who usually can’t afford lunch.

Members of the union helping airport workers, 32BJ SEIU, said that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is putting billions into upgrading LaGuardia while the subcontracted workers who help the airport run are not getting any help in improving their situation. According to the union, 12,000 subcontracted airport workers in the New York region are working on poverty wages and having a hard time paying for basics.

“We were appalled to hear that 1 in 5 airport workers have to skip meals because of the poverty wages they make,” said Meg Fosque, lead organizer at Make the Road New York, in a statement. “We are serving food at the Airports Food Fair because we know that survival services like this are needed, but these hardworking New Yorkers deserve more. They deserve living wages so they will never have to wonder whether or not they can afford food again.”

The union stated that half of airport workers in the region currently rely on some form of public assistance, and many who were screened at the food fair learned that they qualified for additional assistance under their current wage standards.

“If you’re working full-time, you should be paid a living wage, it’s as simple as that,” said Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, in a statement. “Hunger is a direct result of poverty, and if we lift people out of poverty, we can also drastically reduce hunger. We stand with airport workers organizing for a better life. It’s time to right a wrong and pay these workers what they’ve deserved all along.”

After many rallies and protests, the Port Authority promised to release a better wage and benefits plan for airport workers nine months ago. Workers are still waiting for that plan. Elected officials, including New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, have taken the side of the workers in the situation. “Whether you’re a skycap, a baggage handler or a cabin cleaner, an honest day’s work deserves an honest day’s pay. No one should put in a fair day’s work and still have to go on food stamps or other public assistance,” said Schneiderman.