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Queens Chronicle

Sanders fights for better paychecks

Research shows contract airport employees earn below poverty line

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Posted: Thursday, March 1, 2012 12:00 pm | Updated: 12:43 pm, Thu Mar 8, 2012.

Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton) knows how the bad economy has affected his constituents, but believes some JFK Airport workers are not getting their fair share in wages.

Many airport contract employees such as baggage handlers, security officers and maintenance personnel, earn $16,000 a year, significantly below the federal poverty line of $22,040 for a family of four, according to the report “Above Board.” It was released by the Women of Color Policy Network at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service and funded largely by union SEIU-32BJ, which represents many airport workers.

Members of the Southeast Queens Clergy Coalition for Good Jobs, along with New York Communities for Change and other residents, gathered last Friday at the Greater Refuge Church of Christ in South Ozone Park, to rally for proposed changes. The group is calling on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to put an end to wage and benefit disparities between PA employees and passenger service contract workers, who earn an average of about $8 per hour, to allow collective bargaining. That is the process of negotiations between employers and their employees to agree on and regulate work conditions.

According to the report, more than half of non-union workers expressed having difficulties making monthly bill payments; roughly 20 percent receive food stamps and other food assistance.

Sanders acknowledged that the workers often have to work two jobs just to get by, but if the PA allows collective bargaining, it will be beneficial to all involved. “Setting minimum standards for work conditions, wage and benefits will help raise the standard of living, making for happier employees and a more efficient airport,” Sanders said in a statement.

The councilman said he is committed to working with the PA, who runs JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports, and employs thousands of southeast Queens residents, noting how important it is for airports to show a commitment to the neighborhoods where their workers live.

“Airports should be an economic and social boon to the communities in which they reside; not an economic boondoggle for ownership and their appointed employees,” Sanders said.

The coalition sent a letter to Patrick Foye, PA executive director, expressing its need for jobs that offer a living, sustainable wage for its employees.

öoye acknowledgd in a statement that he is sympathetic to the concerns of the workers and has since directed agency staff members to review the findings. Sanders reaffirmed his promise to work with the PA and is optimistic about improvements in wages.

“I want to applaud Executive Director Foye on his commitment to fight for justice for airport workers,” Sanders said, “and I look forward to working with him, local clergy and community members to help invest in Southeast Queens, its residents, and their future.”

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