Bakery workers at Philly airport seek parity with other subcontracted employees

The new year will bring a wage increase for many Philadelphia International Airport workers, thanks to an executive order from Mayor Michael Nutter.

But not everyone is seeing the benefits. Union organizers and workers at the airport’s Au Bon Pain bakery rallied Thursday at the airport to try to win what some other airport workers have received: a union contract and a raise.

The mayor’s executive order, issued in May, requires all airport subcontractors to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour on new contracts, starting in January. But Au Bon Pain’s contract doesn’t expire for four years, meaning workers there won’t see a change anytime soon.

Thursday, a few dozen workers and supporters marched around the sidewalk outside Terminal B to call on Au Bon Pain to support workers’ attempts to unionize. Organizers for the labor group Unite Here, a union representing hospitality workers, say about 70 people work for the company at the airport, many making less than $9 an hour.

One of those workers is Ernest Cottle, who works the night shift and struggles to make ends meet.

“I wish that I could go back to school, that’s my dream to fulfill, to go back in school and get a degree,” Cottle said. “But at the current moment, I can’t, because the wages at Au Bon Pain aren’t good enough.”

If the staff could unionize, Cottle said, “I believe we’d get much more respect. Everybody would have dignity, everybody would want to come to work; we’d get a fair wage we deserve for the work that we do … it would change our environment drastically.”

Organizers say the company hasn’t been friendly to attempts to organize, and they hope their rally helps spur a more cooperative attitude.

An Au Bon Pain representative, however, said the company cares about its employees and accused the labor group Unite Here of harassing workers who don’t want to unionize.

“For several months now, Unite Here has been seeking to force Au Bon Pain to recognize Unite Here as the union representing our employees, without giving employees an opportunity to participate in a secret ballot election,” wrote spokeswoman Christine Moscaritolo in a statement.

“Au Bon Pain is committed to ensuring that our team members enjoy the full protection of the National Labor Relations Act — which fundamentally includes choosing for themselves if they want a union and not letting Unite Here make that choice for them,” she wrote.

A Unite Here spokesman, Isaac Ontiveros, wouldn’t comment on the allegations of harassment or the suggestion of a secret ballot, saying only that there are “several routes” for exploring unionization. Ontiveros added that a Unite Here survey of about 70 workers found that more than 80 percent supported unionization. He said no matter what happens, Unite Here just wants to make sure the workers can take part in a “fair process” with the company.

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