Religious leaders, union workers rally to support fired Philly airport worker and livable wages

 Members of POWER hold their hands over Sarina Santos and her family in a gesture of protection and prayer. The former baggage handler lost her job at Philadelphia Airport after speaking out about workers' rights. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Members of POWER hold their hands over Sarina Santos and her family in a gesture of protection and prayer. The former baggage handler lost her job at Philadelphia Airport after speaking out about workers' rights. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The faith-based organization Philadelphians Organized to Witness and Empower, known as POWER, labor union 32BJ, and religious leaders rallied outside the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul Wednesday in a demonstration for livable wages.

 

They gathered specifically to support a former Philadelphia International Airport worker, Sarina Santos, who said she was fired after speaking out in favor of livable wages.

 

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An emotional Santos spoke after Catholic, Jewish and Muslim leaders prayed for the well-being of her family.

“It’s even harder now then it was before. The bills don’t stop coming because I stopped working, and kids don’t stop needing things for school because I’m not working,” said the 30-year-old mother of three.

Philadelphia voters last year approved a referendum to mandate a livable wage of $12 for workers employed by subcontractors with the city. The city called for the higher wage to be implemented when a contract was renewed.

However, businesses with open-ended contracts are still paying workers $7.25 an hour, the state and federal minimum.

Margaret Ernst of POWER called it just another tactic employed by greedy airports.

“Philadelphians want subcontracted workers and people at the airport to get paid a living wage,” she said. “That’s a sign that the people in Philadelphia want their airport to be a place that is a place of opportunity for everybody and not just a few. Not just for greedy airports.”

Santos, who was fired May 5, said that seeing her check after working 40 hours a week does not bring her any satisfaction because “my paycheck doesn’t look like I worked 40 hours.”

Traci Benjamin of 32BJ — which represents office cleaners, window washers, building engineers, and food service workers — said the ploys are deplorable.

“The subcontractors at the airport are not doing what the residents and the mayor signed off to do. That’s to give them $12 an hour,” Benjamin said. “We’re fighting so workers that are like her can make a livable wage and have the dignity to help lift up their communities.”

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