Newark Airport Workers Rally for Higher Wages

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    By Gertrudis Lopez

    As long as I can remember, I’ve fought for workers’ rights both in my home country of Peru and in my adopted home of New Jersey. Even here in the U.S., I’ve had to fight hard for my rights as a worker. As my coworkers and I have organized to join a union, gain higher wages and the benefits we deserve, we have struggled while making poverty wages. New Jersey workers like us have been treated like second class citizens, making a much lower wage than airport workers doing the exact same work in New York. We have fought hard for change, and this week, we could finally win, not only for ourselves but for thousands of working families in New Jersey and across the region.

    On Thursday, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) is set to vote on a proposal that would raise the minimum wage for 40,000 subcontracted airport workers at Newark, JFK, and LaGuardia Airports to $19 an hour by 2023.

    This will be an unprecedented victory for workers, creating the highest publicly mandated minimum wage in the nation. For New Jersey, it will mean even more, it will mean the hard work of New Jersey workers will be treated with the respect it deserves. After 5 years of organizing, we will have finally won both a living wage and a union. We’ve had support from legislators in New Jersey and New York, but make no mistake: if the proposal passes, this will be a union victory that impacts our entire society and it will be an example of how successful workers can be if they join together and fight for representation.

    Since 2006, I’ve worked as a contracted cabin cleaner at Newark Airport, first earning $7.25 an hour, and now making $10.45 an hour, but still barely enough to make ends meet and help my family both here and back home. When I began organizing with 32BJ more than five years ago, I was hopeful that the union would be recognized for me and my co-workers and that as a result we’d get the respect on the job and the dignified wages we deserved.

    I’ve attended protests and marches and was arrested in an act of civil disobedience on Martin Luther King Day a few years ago because I thought airport workers like me in New Jersey deserved the same wages as New York workers, and that we all deserved a better quality of life that comes with a higher salary. Currently, New Jersey workers earn $2.55 less an hour than our brothers and sisters across the Hudson River in New York.

    If passed, this proposal that I’ve fought so hard to win won’t only impact me, it will deeply benefit local communities in our country.

    A new report, “Restoring Altitude: Economic Impacts of the Port Authority Minimum Wage Proposal,” released this week by the Economic Policy Institute, details the impacts of the PANYNJ proposal that’s up for a vote. The minimum wage increase would result in $431.6 million for 40,000 of us in additional annual household earnings by 2023.

    In addition, “Restoring Altitude” shows how these wage increases will kick-start increased annual spending that will support over 2,700 added jobs in the regional economy while sales to local businesses will grow by $465.1 million. State and local tax revenue will also increase by $33.7 million a year. That’s millions of dollars that can go back into our schools, state infrastructure projects and more.

    The report also noted that airport workers like me would spend our raises, if passed, in and around our communities.

    It is clear that raising the minimum wage becomes both an antidote to poverty for workers of color like me and an economic stimulus for our communities in New Jersey and New York.

    The data in this report makes it clear: The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey needs to take this important first step and live up to its mission to be the region’s economic “engine of growth” by approving a $19 per hour minimum wage at LaGuardia Airport and the John F. Kennedy and Newark Liberty international airports by 2023.

    Gertrudis Lopez is a cabin cleaner at Newark Liberty International Airport. She lives in Newark.

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