philadelphia international airport Airport workers demonstrate at a rally in 2013. Courtesty of SEIU 32BJ

After two years of rallying and pushing for a wage increase, one of the groups depending most on a ballot initiative Tuesday on whether to raise the minimum wage for employees of subcontractors working for the city is the workers of Philadelphia International Airport.

"It's really just caught fire the last few months," Julie Blust, a spokeswoman for 32BJ SEIU, of the minimum wage issue. "New York airport workers just won a wage raise, too, and they voted to join our union. There's so much activity with low-wage workers rising up all over the place, including fast food workers and Wal-Mart workers."

On Monday at 11 a.m., joined by Congressman Bob Brady, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, and faith-based advocacy coalition POWER, airport subcontractor employees will rally to urge Philadelphians to vote "Yes on One" referring to ballot question #1, up for a vote on Tuesday.


With benefits, the proposed minimum wage hike could mean a 50 percent raise for these airport workers.

From baggage handlers to cabin cleaners, many of the more than 2,000 airport workers employed by subcontractors still earn an average salary of $16,000, as a National Employment Law Project (NELP study found in 2013.The median wage for airport workers was $7.85/hour, NELP found.

"If anything, it's a little lower," Blust said of workers' wages now. "Some of the airport workers are getting pay decreases, to $7.25 or $7.50."

As the Philadelphia International Airport is technically owned by the city, city ordinances requiring all city employees to receive a "living wage" should apply to airport workers, Blust said. But subcontractors are not required to pay the same minimum wage that other city employees receive.

City Council has voted to support this ballot initiative, sponsored by Councilman Wilson Goode, Jr.

"The city of Philadelphia should not be subsidizing poverty-level wages. Approval of ballot question #1 will be a permanent and giant step forward for fairness and respect for all workers,” Goode said in a statement.

Mayor Michael Nutter has also said he supports the ballot initiative passing.

"We don't know exactly how it's going to look post-Tuesday ... but I know that we're going to continue to push until the airport workers are actually getting $10.88 on their paychecks," Blust said.

By the numbers

The 2013 report, “Soaring Poverty at the Philadelphia International Airport," found that among those Philadelphia International Airport employees surveyed:

86% of workers are black.

97% receive no paid sick days.

75% reported trouble paying their bills

More than 1/5 of workers or their families went hungry last year because they couldn’t afford to buy food.

27% is the poverty rate in the top neighborhoods where workers live, compared to a national poverty rate of 11.6%.

Latest From ...