Councilman: Christie Presidential Campaign Interfering With Airport Worker Wages

Chris Christie

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. (Photo: Kena Betancur for Getty Images) (Photo: Kena Betancur for Getty Images)

Manhattan Councilman Corey Johnson today suggested that the Port Authority has yet to mandate higher wages for all workers at the five airports it controls because New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie—who selects the entity’s chairman—is looking to garner conservative support for his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

Testifying today before the authority’s board, made up of appointees of Mr. Christie and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the liberal Democratic legislator called for a “21st century wage” for all airport employees. After an aggressive organizing campaign by the union 32BJ SEIU, the authority mandated a new $10.10 wage for most workers at John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia International airports in New York earlier this year, but not for those at Newark Liberty, Atlantic City, Stewart and Teterboro airports in New Jersey.

The standard also does not apply to workers at food concessions at any of the airports, much to the chagrin of the union UNITE HERE. But even the new standard is too low for New York City residents, according to Mr. Johnson, who suggested Mr. Christie is to blame.

“Some airport workers are being paid wages that are so low, they cannot support an individual, let alone a family,” he said, noting that many employees supplement their pay with public assistance, and praising Mr. Cuomo for his recent endorsement of a $15 an hour minimum wage. “I would hope that this issue, for 12,000 people who need it, is not being politicized for the presidential campaign of someone else across the river. I would hope that is not becoming an obstacle to this board doing the right thing.”

Mr. Johnson expanded on the remark to the Observer afterward, arguing that the more ideological voters who participate in GOP primaries would likely respond negatively to Mr. Christie supporting higher pay for airport employees.

“The Republican primary electorate is rabidly anti-worker and anti-union. And if this happened in New Jersey, Chris Christie’s home state, in the heat of a presidential campaign, I’m sure a lot of Republican primary voters, Tea Party voters, wouldn’t look kindly upon that,” he said.

The councilman argued that Mr. Cuomo’s appointees, including Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye, would likely back the New York governor’s call for a $15 pay floor—and concluded Mr. Christie’s appointees, including Chairman John Degnan, must be to blame for opposition to a higher base wage.

“Given that Governor Christie has been an obstacle, and has been opposed to working people getting paid fair wages, I wouldn’t put it past them. This board has been much too politicized in the past. And it’s my hope we can depoliticize the board and do what’s right on behalf of those who need it most,” he said.

The New Jersey Republican’s camp did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Mr. Christie has struggled in the polls, pulling between two to five percent of the vote according to the most recent surveys.

Part of his difficulty may be due to bad publicity emanating out of the Port Authority. Mr. Christie’s former deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly and his Deputy Director at the Port Authority, Bill Baroni, were indicted on federal charges of conspiracy and fraud in May for allegedly deliberately tying up traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge in an act of political vengeance against the mayor of Fort Lee, a Christie opponent.

David Wildstein, a longtime Christie ally Mr. Baroni appointed deputy director of interstate capital projects, pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the scandal known as Bridgegate. Mr. Christie himself does not face any charges of wrongdoing, and has denied knowledge of the entire affair.

Brooklyn Councilman Mathieu Eugene, State Senator James Sanders and Manhattan Councilman Mark Levine also testified before the board in favor of higher wages.

Councilman: Christie Presidential Campaign Interfering With Airport Worker Wages