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Opinion: Newark Airport Workers Straddle Poverty Line

The Star-Ledger – NJ.com (blog), November 8, 2013

 By Joe A. Carter

Poverty wages are killing our communities.

Tens of thousands of contracted airport workers – many of whom live within five miles of Newark Liberty International Airport in the city’s highest-poverty wards – struggle to make ends meet for themselves and their families. To stretch their income, many skip meals, wear hand-me-down clothes and rely on public assistance to supplement their skimpy earnings.

While fast-food strikes have garnered national headlines, the plight of contracted passenger services employees and security guards has largely flown under the radar.

Contractors hired by airlines pay their employees far less than workers doing similar jobs for airlines and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the airports. Not only is this double standard unfair, it hurts those who can least afford it.

A February 2012 report from the Women of Color Policy Network found the median income of these workers was $16,640 – more than 25 percent less than the federal poverty threshold. That works out to a median hourly wage of $8.

The report found that most passenger service workers live within five miles of our three major airports, including the North and East wards of Newark. Across the ZIP codes where surveyed workers live, 21 percent live below the federal poverty line. And one-third of the workers in those Newark wards do not have health insurance or other benefits.

These are not just statistics. They are real people who work in the shadows and struggle just to get by. People such as:

  • Demetrius DiBiase has been a baggage handler for Huntleigh at Newark Liberty for five years and still earns the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
  • Sean Vines, 38, is an aircraft cleaner for Primeflight Aviation services at Newark Liberty. He makes minimum wage.
  • Derick Swaby, 56, a cleaner for Primeflight, has a hard time supporting his 14-year-old son on his minimum wage salary.

And a new report by University of California Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education found that, since the 9/11 terror attacks, airport-related workers saw real hourly wages fall by an average of 15 percent. Nationally, more than one in three airport workers lives in poverty and relies on taxpayer assistance to feed and clothe their families and pay their bills.

While New Jersey voters overwhelmingly approved raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 an hour and tie increases to inflation, the simple truth is that even $8.25 an hour – roughly $17,160 a year – is still not enough to support a family in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area.

This cannot continue.

The hardworking men and women who clean our planes and keep our airports safe deserve a fair wage and the right to join a good union. That will help get them into the middle class, grow the economy and keep the airports safe. They also need paid sick days in case they or a family member is ill. A worker who comes to work sick puts travelers and airport employees at risk.

Contractors such as Primeflight, Air Serv, and Huntleigh need to do the right thing and pay dedicated people a decent wage with benefits.

If they refuse, we urge the Port Authority, which pays its employees fair wages, to make sure there is a base level of standards at the airports. We look forward to working with them to make that a reality.

 

Original Article

 

 
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