POWER's Jobs & Justice at the Airport Campaign — changing the conversation to one about poverty and inequality

POWER's Jobs & Justice at the Airport Campaign — changing the conversation to one about poverty and inequality

The issue boils down to subcontractors not having to meet the employment standards that the City of Philadelphia requires of any businesses it contracts with, for example what City Council has deemed “21st century wages” or 150% of minimum wage ($10.88 instead of $7.25 an hour). This makes the difference between making a living for their families or not for 1500 employees subcontracted by the airlines. It’s even more workers when one looks to the service employees employed by subcontractors at the airport.

The airlines who enter into direct lease contracts with the city have no choice but to meet all the requirements that the city requires. And they are.

But if the airlines subcontract work out, in current practice, the subcontractors are not required to meet the city’s standards. Hence, the workers who take our bags or transport passengers through the airport, if they work for a subcontractor, are not guaranteed 21st century wages. And some contractors, figuring that these employees also receive tip income, actually pay their employees less than minimum wage.

On Tuesday, Michael joined almost 200 other POWER leaders for the City Council Transportation hearing on approving a 2-year lease extension for U.S. Airways and the other airlines at Philadelphia International Airport.

As many of you already know, the City Council Transportation Committee approved a Lease Extension that did not include strong language on any of POWER’s 5 economic justice principles (including a Living Wage provision, First Source Hiring, or Labor Harmony, which Councilman Johnson, the chair of the Transportation, had indicated he would fight for. (Click here for Daily News story.)

While Council’s actions are disappointing, they are not surprising. U.S. Airways – soon in its merger with American Airlines to be the largest airline in the world – spent considerable energy lobbying Councilman Kenyatta Johnson and threatened to “move their Philadelphia hub to Charlotte, NC” if any changes to the status quo lease agreement were made.

Councilman Johnson and the other Transportation Committee members let themselves be bullied and sided with U.S. Airways over workers like Onetha McKnight and Tara Russell who live in poverty. Click here for worker testimony at Tuesday’s hearings.

For now. This Committee vote was merely the first round in a multi-year fight that POWER will continue.

We have already changed the conversation to one about poverty and inequality. We helped lift up the pain and the stories of people like Onetha and Tara, people who are mostly kept silent and invisible by powerful forces like large corporations and governments. As Councilman Good said, usually the chamber would be empty for a hearing like this. But it’s full because this kind of disregard for workers and their needs must stop.” We are forcing public attention on what is usually a rubber stamped, below-the-radar legislative procedure, and made one of the most powerful corporate entities in the nation sweat for a moment.

As Rev. Greg Holston, POWER clergy leader and pastor of New Vision UMC Church, commented: “No one ever said that fighting for the poor would be easy or quick. Indeed. We understand how many times Moses had to go to Pharaoh before he changed his heart.”