Could Philly meet coalition demands on airport jobs?

Over the weekend, 2,000 people showed up at a Northwest Philadelphia church to push for higher pay for workers at the Philadelphia airport.

The battle at the airport comes down to an old-fashioned fight over money.

The interfaith coalition POWER argues that everyone working for airport contractors and subcontractors should be paid a “living wage.” The coalition also wants the airport to foot the whole bill for a “pipeline” job-training program.

Instead of taking it up with the companies at the airport, POWER is trying to go through the city, which owns the airport and leases space to companies.

POWER is making noise now because the airlines need a new contract with the city by June. The company that handles airport concessions operates under its existing contract through January.

“It’s well within the city’s power to negotiate in a lease agreement on something like this,” argues Ben Beach, legal director of the Partnership for Working Families and a participant on the airport campaign.

On the issue of whether the city should exact promises from the subcontractors that handle baggage and clean planes, Beach poses a counterargument: “If the law doesn’t apply to subcontractors, then companies can simply avoid the wage requirements by contracting out the work.”

On whether the city can apply these rules, he points to the West Coast, where San Francisco and San Jose both apply their wage rules to subcontractors.

Victoria Lupica, spokeswoman for Philadelphia International, says the airport can’t regulate companies that aren’t parties to the contract signed with the city.

“The city doesn’t set wages for the subcontractors of firms operating at the airport or any other agency,” she said.

That’s been a bone of contention with City Council members. And Beach says the city’s existing practice doesn’t mean the city can’t make changes at the airport.

It’s likely not lost on the city that airlines will not welcome changes that would mean higher operating costs in Philadelphia and that its envisioned, costly airport expansion depends on their buy-in.

POWER also advocates creating a training program that would prepare veterans and low-income people to take airport jobs.

The Nutter administration supports training people for jobs at the airport but, unlike POWER, thinks the funding should come together from various airport revenue streams and not just fall to the airlines.

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