Faces of Low-Wage Workers at the Airport

Philadelphia International Airport, a major economic engine for the city and region, supports over 141,000 jobs in the Philadelphia region and brings more than $14 billion in economic activity to the area.  But, to cut costs, airlines at the airport outsource passenger service jobs to low bid contractors. 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.

Click here (PDF) to read our report from last fall, “Raising the Bar: Ensuring That Airport Expansion Lifts All of Philadelphia.” And click here to read the National Employment Law Project’s report, “Soaring Poverty at the Philadelphia International Airport: How Low Wage Airport Jobs Keep Philadelphia #1 For Poverty” (PDF).

Meet the workers struggling to get by on low wages:

o mcknightOnetha McKnight, Wheelchair Attendant
“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…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.”

Nathaniel Smith, Nate SmithBaggage Handler
“I only make $7.25 an hour with NO affordable benefits and NO personal or sick days. I don’t even have a break room where I can eat my lunch. My employer PrimeFlight is one of many sub-contractors at the airport that provides cheap passenger services to the airlines by paying their workers bottom barrel wages. I am a baggage handler and I break my back lifting over 1,000 bags per day.  I never thought that at age 22 I would be ruining my body for $7.25 an hour. This job has taken its toll on my back and shoulders and has made my scoliosis worse.”

JOHNS STEWART John Stewart, Wheelchair Attendant
“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.”






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