Philly airport workers will rally today for living wages

philadelphia international airport
Airport workers earlier this month invited Mayor Michael Nutter to walk a day in their shoes so he could fully realize their working conditions. (Credit: SEIU 32BJ)

An anticipated 4,000 members of interfaith advocacy coalition POWER, along with city officials including Philadelphia School Superintendent William Hite Jr., will gather this afternoon at a North Philadelphia church to fight for living wages for employees of the Philadelphia International Airport.

“Building a City of Opportunity That Works for All” will touch on the need for reforms to education and immigration law in Philadelphia.

The rally will chiefly focus on the plight of airport workers – namely the thousands of baggage handlers, attendants and skycaps employed by city subcontractors.

In an attempt to cut costs, airlines outsource many of these passenger services jobs to low bid contractors that barely pay minimum wage and don’t offer benefits.

US Airways – PHL’s largest carrier – in January announced record profits for 2012.

The airline announced the same month a two-year lease extension with the city of Philadelphia providing for $734 million in new capital investments.

But many of the subcontracted employees say they aren’t sharing in the wealth.

They’re urging that before City Council approves the terms of the lease, members consider their working conditions, which fly in the face of the Philadelphia 21st Century Minimum Wage and Benefits Standard passed by Council in 2005.

The ordinance spearheaded by Councilman Wilson Goode Jr., which was expanded in February to include companies with five or more employees, compels all city lessees and sub-lessees to pay their workers at least 150 percent of the federal minimum wage.

Still, the city has chosen not to force airport subcontractors to abide by those provisions.

After Council’s unanimous passage of the ordinance’s expansion, Goode Jr. said he was fighting “two battles.”

One was over extending the legislation on paper, requiring wage standards be observed by a larger number of city contractors and subcontractors.

Council achieved that goal when they voted to change the ordinance’s language.

The second battle is shaping up to more closely resemble a war.

That fight centers around whether City Council has the legal authority to require that contracts negotiated by the mayor’s office observe any wage standards, at all.

Former Managing Director’s Office chief of staff Brian Abernathy testified last month that the Nutter administration doesn’t recognize such City Council-passed provisions as binding.

Goode said he believes “eventually, this may be a dispute that ends up in court.”

The rally will kick off at 3 p.m. at Deliverance Evangelistic Church, 2001 W. Lehigh Ave.

Those planning to attend are asked to RSVP here.


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