Phase-in of New York and New Jersey airport workers begins

Stephon Johnson | 11/8/2018, 11:52 a.m.
It’s a new day for New York and New Jersey airport workers, who begin the road to a higher minimum ...

It’s a new day for New York and New Jersey airport workers, who begin the road to a higher minimum wage this month.

Nov. 1, workers at John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports experienced the first increment of a wage increase voted on by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s Board of Commissioners. In September, the board approved of raising the minimum wage to $19 an hour by 2023 for tristate area wheelchair agents, terminal and airplane cleaners, baggage handlers and other airport workers.

The collective raise constitutes the highest minimum wage in the country.

32BJ SEIU President Héctor Figueroa said the new pay scale will affect not only the 40,000 local airport workers but also their families.

“These workers do vital jobs at some of the nation’s busiest airports and deserve decent wages that are the foundation of the middle class,” said Figueroa in a statement. “The increases coming on Nov. 1 are an important step. Better wages will help reduce turnover in jobs that are key to maintaining safety and security at the airports and it happened because we came together in union.”

Starting this month, Newark Airport workers’ hourly wages rise from $10.45 to $12.45 and hit $15.60 Sept. 1, 2019. Workers at JFK and LaGuardia, who are already making more than New Jersey workers, see their wages rise from $13 to $13.60. New York State’s own minimum wage goes to $15 Jan. 1, 2019. Afterward, the minimum wages of all airport workers would increase in parallel to $15.60 on Sept. 1, 2019, to $16.20 in 2020, to $17 in 2021, to $18 in 2022 and to $19 in 2023, based on the PANYNJ’s timetable.

Security officers had initially voted to strike last week over Global Elite’s treatment of pregnant workers, but called it off at the last minute.

Workers in the tristate area are now looking forward to better wages.

“I’m pretty excited about it,” stated Shafequa Williams of Irvington, the mother of three boys ages 2 to 12, who works as a wheelchair agent in Newark. “It means a lot to me. We work hard. We can help pay more bills and do more for our families.”

There are still challenges for labor to be addressed, despite the good news. At Newark Airport, United Airlines announced a change in contractors right after the wage increases were approved, resulting in layoff notices for 800 of the same workers who fought for the raise, something that isn’t lost on JFK security officer Donna Hampton.

“Our fight is still ongoing,” stated Hampton. “I still can’t afford to pay for health care.”

However, she added, “Morale has changed. We now get more respect from the employers.”