The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey should waste no time in adopting a living wage standard for all of its airports. All workers deserve a family-sustaining wage and benefits for their labor. Certainly, they do not deserve to work for poverty wages. Living wage standards are already in place at many international airports including Los Angeles, St. Louis, Seattle-Tacoma, and San Francisco among others. It is time for the New York-New Jersey region to act.
As a Congressionally authorized interstate organization charged with overseeing most of the regional transportation infrastructure, the Port Authority has a public obligation to ensure its policies do not encourage the dangerous race-to-the-bottom labor tactics that put constant pressure on companies to reduce labor costs. The consequences of such a death spiral not only effect workers and their families; they also increase the need for publicly-funded assistance for these under-paid workers. In other words, companies cut wages, the public picks up the difference—and more.
Airlines and affiliated companies will make the argument that paying a living wage will increase the cost of air travel, but economists at the University of California, Berkeley studied San Francisco’s living wage program and found the results to be positive: worker turnover decreased by 30 percent and employers benefitted from improved job performance and customer service, as well as a marked decline in absenteeism and grievances. The reduction in turnover-related costs alone saved companies $6.6 million per year, and the cost to travelers was about $1.89 per person in San Francisco. The good news for flyers at Port Authority airports is that the cost per passenger would likely be considerably lower. Based on the 122.5 million passengers served last year, the cost to fund this living wage policy would be between 20 and 39 cents per passenger. Less than two quarters per passenger would make a tremendous difference to the more than 1,000 customer service employees, baggage handlers, cleaners, security personnel, and wheel chair service employees who would benefit.
Of course, we want our airlines and other airport service providers to be profitable, and by passing living wage language, the Port Authority can insure that all businesses are operating on a level playing field. The considerate employer, the one who treats its workers fairly, will no longer be undercut by the unscrupulous company that wins work by exploiting its workforce. With living wage language, competitiveness will be based on productivity, sound management, and fair profit margins. That is the type of policy that will benefit the entire region—employers and employees, alike. We need a living wage standard at the Port Authority now.
Raymond M. Pocino is Vice President and Eastern Regional Manager for the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), representing more than 40,000 construction workers in New Jersey, New York City, Long Island, and Delaware. He also serves as a commissioner of the Port Authority of new York and New Jersey. All opinions stated here are Mr. Pocino’s.
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