New York City labor advocates just achieved a huge milestone for workers’ rights. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey recently approved a plan to increase the minimum wage for airport workers to $19 per hour, the highest in the nation. The wage hike would affect some 40,000 baggage handlers, security guards, catering staff and other workers at the three major airports in the region.
The announcement comes after years of research, protest and advocacy from unionized workers. Proponents of the increase faced severe pushback from airline companies, which argued that higher wages would mean higher prices for customers.
However, labor advocates noted that high turnover rates fueled by insufficient wages were making the travel experience less safe and efficient for passengers. New York City’s airport worker turnover rates are exceptionally high — more than 30 percent annually, and even as high as 160 percent at one company, according to a report issued by the Port Authority.
New York City’s airports are vulnerable on multiple levels. Together they serve more than 100 million travelers annually, and they have faced overwhelming crowds and inclement weather in recent years, not to mention several thwarted attacks.
“The new policy will benefit the traveling public by reducing staff turnover and providing an experienced, well-trained, motivated workforce that can better assist in responding to an emergency, identifying security issues, operating equipment safely, and providing experienced customer service,” reads a statement from the New Jersey governor’s office.
The Port Authority modeled its plan after other airports around the country saw success improving operations and safety by increasing their minimum wages. “Lifting airport workers’ wages is now a tried and tested tool for responding to a recurring set of problems at airports around the United States,” the agency noted in its report.
Airport workers in New York currently earn at least $13 per hour under state law, and workers in New Jersey earn a minimum of $10.45. Beginning on Nov. 1, New York workers will receive $13.60 an hour and New Jersey workers will earn $12.45. The wages will increase annually until they hit a minimum of $19 an hour in 2023.
Raising the minimum wage is a hot-button issue. While proponents argue that an increase will lift people out of poverty and reduce turnover rates, thus saving millions in training costs, critics say that wage hikes will ultimately lead to massive job loss.
Nonetheless, the airport workers’ wage bump has been hailed as a triumph for the American worker. “Their struggle will send a message around the country that when workers stand together and fight for justice, they can win,” said Senator Bernie Sanders.