It is a sad fact that Philadelphia is the worst big city in America for deep poverty and is desperate for good jobs. Our city’s residents need a raise! The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25/hr since 2009, and some folks make even less because they are classified as tipped workers. Thousands of these working poor are at one of the city’s economic powerhouses, Philadelphia International Airport. It’s time for them to get a raise, and we have the power. Philadelphia voters need to go to the polls tomorrow and vote “Yes” on ballot question one to demand that airport workers and others with city subcontractors aren’t paid poverty wages.
Philadelphia International Airport supports over 141,000 jobs in the Philadelphia region and brings more than $14 billion in economic activity to the area. Airlines recently reported $12.7 BILLION in profits for 2013. But airlines at the airport outsource passenger service jobs to low bid contractors to make even more profit. Sub-contracted airport workers who provide vital services to airlines such as cleaning terminals and aircraft, pushing wheelchairs, handling baggage, and performing security services to keep passengers safe make as little as $7.25 an hour with no access to affordable health benefits, including sick days. One of out of five subcontracted airport workers even reported going hungry last year. These are not the kinds of jobs the city should be supporting.
Onetha Mcknight, a long time subcontracted worker at PHL, has been struggling to get by on low wages. “I have been a wheelchair attendant for six years at the airport. I have never received a raise. I started at $7.00 per hour and still make $7.00 per hour,” she said. “I find it difficult to make ends meet on the poverty wages. I have a son and five grandchildren. I help out with my grandchildren. There’s not always enough left at the end of the month to pay my bills. At this time, I don’t have any health insurance and I have asthma and high blood pressure. My company offers health care, but there’s no way I can afford it. For about three months now, I have been without my medication. I have had accelerated heartbeats and headaches.”
Outsiders looking in assume working at the airport is a good job with healthcare benefits and fair pay, but that is far from the truth. An estimated 2,000 airport workers are employed by airline subcontractors. These workers make as little as $7.25/hr and rely heavily on public assistance. Surveys conducted by National Employment Law Project found:
- 37.9% of surveyed workers received food stamps.
- 37.9% of surveyed workers received public health insurance.
- 16.9% of surveyed workers received childcare WIC.
- 12.3% of surveyed workers received housing assistance.
- 12.3% of surveyed workers received gas/electric heat assistance
- 3.1% of surveyed workers received cash assistance TANF.
Giving these workers the opportunity to earn a living wage will not only benefit them, but it will also benefit the rest of Philadelphia. More money in the pockets of low-wage workers means more spending to help jolt our struggling economy. Raising the wage will also alleviate pressure on tax payers to pay for basic needs workers receive through public assistance.
Wheelchair attendant John Stewart says, “People have asked me: Why don’t you just get another job? The reality is that there are not great jobs just around the corner. I do this job out of necessity to pay my bills. I need to pay rent, for my food, my phone, for my trans pass. After I pay my bills, there is little left over. Living on the minimum wage is not easy. No one would choose to make this little if they had other options.”
You probably heard about Mayor Nutter’s recent executive order giving city subcontractors a raise. We applaud and support the mayor’s decision to finally give these workers a raise, but we need to make sure this standard is right in the city charterWe can do that by voting YES ON ONE tomorrow.
Tomorrow, Philadelphia voters will have the chance to give Onetha and John and thousands of other airport workers a much-needed raise. You can do your part and cast your vote for airport workers who are fighting to improve jobs and get the economy moving again.