Study finds some Philly airport workers earn barely more than federal minimum

    Wages for contract workers at Philadelphia International Airport are so low many workers actually go hungry, a report by a worker advocacy group said Tuesday.

    Most families surveyed by the National Employment Law Project said their income falls below the federal poverty line, and one in five workers reported experiencing chronic hunger.

    The report comes as City Council finalizes a two-year lease extension for US Airways, the major airline in Philadelphia.

    The current agreement provides for $734 million in capital investment at the airport, but does not address wage rates or benefits for subcontracted workers.

    The NELP’s report emphasized that even if many subcontracted airport employees have wages above the federal minimum, their family income may fall below poverty benchmarks.

    “At just $7.85 per hour, the mean reported wage among our respondents, a full-time worker earns only $16,328 per year,” the report noted, “well below the federal poverty line for a family of four.”

    The survey polled 200 of approximately 2,000 subcontracted workers in baggage handling, security, passenger services, and other occupations at the airport.

    Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ and an interfaith organization called POWER joined NELP at the news conference.

    Last week, the two groups petitioned City Council to set the minimum wage for subcontracted airport workers at $10.88 per hour, the same minimum rate for workers at airlines with city leases.

    At the news conference, cabin cleaner and driver George Walker said he struggles to meet basic expenses, including health-care payments for himself and his family.

    “I am 70 years old. I am tired of living in poverty,” said Walker. “I am not asking for much. I just want a living wage, better working conditions on the job.”

    The lease agreement the City Council committee approved June 5 urges airline contractors to include a provision in their proposals supporting “labor harmony” between airport service workers and employers.

    The full Council will consider the final lease agreement as soon as Thursday.

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