Can Councilman Wilson Goode Jr. save Philadelphia airport workers?

airport philadelphia
Workers earlier this month protested at the Philadelphia International Airport. (Credit: Rikard Larma / Metro).

Workers at the Philadelphia International Airport who are employed by city subcontractors have long been advocating for living wages, employment benefits and improved working conditions.

They’ve held protests, filed federal safety complaints and, most recently, petitioned City Council to refuse to renew the city’s lease agreement with US Airways unless it included a provision extending wage protections to subcontracted employees – all to no avail.

But on Tuesday – the same day the National Employment Law Project will release a report detailing the economic impact and demographics of Philadelphia airport workers – Councilman Wilson Goode, Jr. announced he will introduce legislation extending the Philadelphia 21st Century Minimum Wage and Benefits ordinance to city sub-lessees and subcontractors.

The city in 2005 enacted the Goode Jr.-sponsored Minimum Wage and Benefits ordinance requiring employers who are recipients of city leases to pay workers a living wage.

The ordinance was in February expanded to apply to smaller companies, as well.

But Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration has continually contended the provisions don’t apply to employees of city subcontractors, such as thousands of airport skycaps, wheelchair attendants and baggage handlers who have complained of poor training, low page and inadequate equipment and safety protections.

Goode Jr. on May 13 obtained a legal memorandum from City Solicitor Shelley Smith confirming City Council does not have the power to compel the city to extend the standards of the Minimum Wage and Benefits ordinance to city subcontractors or sub-lessees.

In response, Goode Jr. will on Thursday propose a Philadelphia Home Rule Charter amendment mandating City Council explicitly be given the power to, in part, “require those who contract with the city or are recipients of city financial assistance to pass along the requirements of such an ordinance to subcontractors (at any tier) and sub-recipients (at any tier),” according to a draft of the resolution circulated Tuesday.

Should the ordinance receive approval from the majority of City Council members and the mayor, it will be included as a ballot question during the May 20, 2014 election.

Philadelphia voters may well have the final say on whether subcontracted city employees receive living wages and other employment protections.

For now, it seems for workers at the Philadelphia International Airport, hope is on the horizon.


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