New York-area airport workers approved for wage hikes
After years of discussions, studies and protests, the authority that runs New York-area airports voted Thursday to authorize hourly wage increases to thousands of privately employed workers at those facilities that will pay them $19 by 2023.
The phased increases will go into effect beginning November 1 and are intended to help combat what the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey described as a more than 30 percent turnover rate at the airports that has affected performance and compromised security.
The measure had the full support of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, both Democrats who have veto power over the bi-state agency. Cuomo has already successfully pushed for an increase in New York’s minimum wage to $15.
Privately employed airport employees who work in concessions, baggage handling, transportation, cleaning of planes and other jobs make between $10 and $11 per hour. The Port Authority says that has contributed to the high turnover rate, which in some unions is as high as 65 percent annually, according to a report the authority released.
Airport workers have attended monthly board meetings for several years, often giving emotional accounts of their struggles and occasionally conducting boisterous street rallies.
Port Authority Chairman Kevin O’Toole called the vote “an historic day” and said it “will not only make a difference in the lives of airport workers but will enhance security and improve customer service at all of our facilities.”
According to the Port Authority’s report, about 20 percent of airport workers are forced to rely on public assistance to augment their incomes.
The authority’s board approved the increases in late March, pending a 60-day public comment period. That period was extended another 30 days after officials received a large number of responses, some of which brought up issues including how tipped workers’ increases would be calculated and whether retail businesses at the airports would still have to abide by “street pricing” policies that set maximum limits on what they can charge. The approved wage proposal addressed both, including allowing retail businesses flexibility with pricing.
In its report, the Port Authority noted that though it can’t issue subpoenas or criminally prosecute employers who don’t implement the increases, it could use a breach of contract lawsuit “based on the theory that a given airport employer’s non-compliance with the minimum wage rules is a material breach of the employer’s binding legal agreement or agreements with the Port Authority.”