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.

 

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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