Philly airport workers again press their case for wages in line with city minimum

 Airport workers, union members and officials protest working conditions at an airport terminal in this NewsWorks file photo (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Airport workers, union members and officials protest working conditions at an airport terminal in this NewsWorks file photo (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia International Airport workers say they’re tired of waiting for a promised wage increase, but whether any help is coming from the city isn’t clear.

As of January, Philadelphia’s official minimum wage is $12 an hour, the result of a combination of an executive order from Mayor Michael Nutter and voters’ approval of a change to the city charter.

But despite the city’s attempts to ensure that the airport’s thousands of subcontracted workers would be covered by the new wage law, many still earn far less than $12 an hour.

Airport workers staged a brief strike Thursday morning to protest that pay from some airline subcontractors still starts with the old wage of $7.25 an hour. Later Thursday, hundreds of workers and their supporters showed up at City Hall to pressure city officials and Council members to back their cause.

Gabriel Morgan, a vice president of the service workers union SEIU 32BJ, said it was past time for the workers to get their raise.

“This is Philadelphia’s airport. It’s the people of Philadelphia’s airport,” Morgan said. “These are hard-working Philadelphians there. It’s just simply wrong to have thousands of Philadelphians working in poverty in a publicly owned place.”

The wage law is clear, Morgan said, but whether it will be enforced at the airport is not.

“First of all, there’s so many contractors, who knows who all the contractors are — seems clear that even the city doesn’t know,” Morgan said. “What we know from all of the workers that we talk to, they simply have not received any of these increases.

“So something has to be done,” Morgan said, but exactly what isn’t clear, he added.

Officials at the airport say the dispute is between airlines and their workers. A US Airways representative said the matter must be settled between the airlines’ subcontractors and the city. City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson said Council needs to “get to the bottom of this,” and perhaps find a way to strengthen enforcement of the new city law.

A spokeman for the mayor said Nutter had no comment on the current dispute. Asked if the mayor might consider bringing pressure to bear on the airlines or their contractors — one of whom announced Thursday that a pay raise could be imminent — spokesman Mark McDonald said that at this point, he could not say one way or the other.

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