Southeast Queens clergy rally for better wages for airport workers

A broad coalition of Southeast Queens clergy, community members and organizations last week gathered for a news conference to demand an end to wage and benefit disparities between airline-contracted workers at Port Authority airports.

The group discussed a letter they wrote to Port Authority officials, urging them to require airlines to change their procurement practices, and invest in the neighborhoods surrounding the airports. The letter stressed the need for community involvement in wage discussions and local development projects.

It pointed to a new report from NYU’s Women of Color Policy Institute which said that more than 14,000 service passenger contract workers earn significantly less than Port Authority employees. The airlines’ use of practices like “low-bid contracting” encourages contractors to pay workers low wages, the letter stated.

The service passenger contract workers, most of whom are minorities, typically live in Southeast Queens and Newark, NJ, in the areas surrounding JFK, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty airports. The positions include baggage handlers, security officers, maintenance workers, and a range of other jobs.

“As moral leaders we have a duty to speak out against injustice. This community needs good jobs that pay fair wages. We need to put a value on companies that bring good jobs to the community, and speak out against those that opt to pay workers poorly,” said the Rev. Blanchette of Revelation Pilgrim Ministry.

The airport workers earn “poverty wages,” which amount to roughly $15, 840 per year for the average worker – 25 percent below the federal poverty line for a family of four, and that the same family in the New York Metropolitan area would need an income greater than $59,000 to cover basic necessities. The group says such low wages and benefits stifle regional growth and development in the areas surrounding the airports.

“I’m a lifelong resident of Southeast Queens, and I’ve seen firsthand how my neighborhood has changed over the years,” said Florence Johnson of Jamaica, N.Y. “This used to be an area where people were filled with hope for the future, and the promise of educating their children, and settling into a good life. Many of my neighbors work in the airports for wages that don’t allow them to support their families. It is time for these airlines to invest in the people that they have depended on for so many years.”

“Few areas in New York City have been harder hit by the recession than Southeast Queens. There are very few jobs available in our community, and we face one of the highest foreclosure rates in the region. The airports are of the largest employers in our community, and airlines can certainly afford to provide jobs that pay workers more than ‘poverty wages,’” said New York Communities for Change member Jean Sassine of Queens, N.Y.

“We hope that the airlines will make a commitment to the residents of Southeast Queens and require their contractors to provide fair wages and job training so that the residents in the areas surrounding the airports can enjoy the benefits of increasing airline revenue and ridership,” said Archbishop Russell James of the One Offering Tabernacle of God.

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