Airport Workers Demand Higher Wages in Protest
FORT LAUDERDALE — Airport employees crowded a section of Hollywood-Fort Lauderdale International Airport on Wednesday afternoon to demand higher wages and better benefits.
The protest took place as part of a public assistance fair put on by a local union. Joining the workers — a collection of employees ranging from wheelchair attendants to skycaps— were elected officials, including state Reps. Hazelle Rogers and Evan Jenne, and Broward Commissioner Dale Holness.
Travelers who approached Terminals 2 and 3 at the airport saw the unusual activity along the walkway. Supporters estimated about 50 people participated.
“Many airport workers are paid so poorly that they must work multiple jobs or rely on public assistance just to survive,” said Holness, who represents District 9. “This is unconscionable. We should ensure that the hard-working workers who take our bags, clean our bathrooms, provide security, assist wheelchair bound passengers, and clean the aircraft make a fair and decent livable wage so that they can support themselves and their families.”
Currently, more than 1,200 airline-contracted workers are excluded from Broward County’s $13.20 Living Wage Ordinance. These wheelchair attendants, skycaps, security agents, checkpoint workers and others earn an average of $8.14 per hour. Salaries are so low that about 29 percent of airport workers are eligible for government assistance programs, said Ana Tinsly, a spokeswoman with 32BJ SEIU, which organized the activity.
Broward County Commissioners introduced a bill in May to extend the County’s Living Wage ordinance to include airport workers, as well as commissioned a study on the issue. Two more motions are needed in order to advance the measure. Advocates say once this loophole is closed, it will inject an additional $14 million per year into Broward’s economy and communities.
Some of the workers got paperwork assistance from Catalyst Miami and Hispanic Unity of Florida, which provided the eligibility screening for government programs including, nutritional benefits, low-cost health care and assistance in paying their energy bills.
Sandra Smith, a wheelchair attendant who works for two airline contractors, G2 Secure Staff and Eulen America, takes a two-hour bus ride every day to the airport, where she earns a little over $8.00 an hour. At the benefits fair, Smith learned that she might qualify for food stamp benefits and possibly other programs.
“We are human beings. We cannot survive on the wages we are earning,” said Smith, who lives in a one-room apartment with her daughter. “Every time I try to look for an apartment, the rental managers ask me for my pay stubs. They always want to know how will I be able to feed my family after I pay the rent. I work more than 50 hours a week. There is no reason why I shouldn’t be able to afford an apartment, buy food, and pay my bills.”
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, one of the area’s most important economic engines, is responsible for 135,000 jobs and has an estimated annual economic impact of about $10.6 billion. Activists contend that the airport has a shadow economy in which hundreds of workers struggle with poverty wages and little or not benefits.
They say the airlines use low-bid contractors who routinely cut costs on the backs of employees.
“I work hard lifting and moving heavy suitcases for passengers all day and yet I need two jobs just to make ends meet,” said Newton Ingram, a said Newton Ingram, a skycap who works for G2 Secure Staff, which services Southwest and Virgin America Airlines.
“Airport jobs used to be good jobs. This is no longer the case. I earn $5.00 an hour plus tips. My wife and I help take care for my mother-in-law, who has expensive medical bills. Somehow we are making it work, but just barely. What if I get sick? What if my mother in law’s health care becomes more expensive? Earning a living wage would mean piece of mind and the knowledge that my work is valued,” Ingram added.