Equality at last for airport food service workers

Stuart Appelbaum | 4/5/2018, 12:34 p.m.
Tens of thousands of workers at New York City’s airports have a reason to rejoice this spring
Stuart Appelbaum

Tens of thousands of workers at New York City’s airports have a reason to rejoice this spring. They just secured the highest targeted minimum wage in the country. After intense organizing by a coalition representing members from RWDSU, UNITE HERE Local 100 and RWDSU Local 1102, the Port Authority passed a resolution to steadily increase workers’ base wages to $19 an hour by 2023. For these workers—many of whom had been earning the minimum wage—this raise will represent a dramatic improvement in their jobs and their lives. The proposal is set to be enacted at the June 28 board meeting after a 60-day public comment period. Workers would start to see the increases toward the end of summer 2018.

Four years ago, the Port Authority raised wages for security officers and baggage handlers at the airports in New York because of successful efforts by SEIU local 32BJ. However, the Port Authority excluded thousands of workers represented by RWDSU Local 1102 and UNITE HERE Local 100, creating a wage gap in the workforce. The Port Authority’s action remedies this oversight for more than 40,000 workers. Most importantly, it recognizes that more than 7,600 RWDSU and UNITE HERE members who work in airline catering and in airport concessions and kiosks have a right to fair pay for a fair day’s work.

The action by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey—and the leadership of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy—are to be commended. Service workers at LaGuardia, JFK and Newark Liberty are key to the success and security of our region’s airports. Raising wages has the potential to positively affect the lives of tens of thousands of workers at these facilities. Raising the wage floor shows these workers that they are valued by the people of New York and New Jersey and will allow hard working men and women to finally support themselves and their families with their airport job. And, this action sets an example for all food service employers throughout New York and New Jersey.

“Airline catering workers at Newark Liberty International Airport earn as little as $9.75 an hour and at LaGuardia and JFK $13.00 an hour,” said Shirley Drennon a RWDSU Local 1102 member and station attendant at Flying Foods at John F. Kennedy International Airport. “We work hard and should be making what all other airport workers make. That is what equality and fairness is all about.”

Employers can afford to treat their workers decently, pay them a fair wage and act as responsible members of their communities. It’s no excuse to pay workers the bare minimum simply because they work in the food service industry. And, when workers join unions, and support each other, they can demand and win the dignity and respect on the job that they deserve.