“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” This quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us that we all have a responsibility to speak up when we see injustice. As a longtime Senator representing New Jersey’s 20thLegislative District, I feel it’s my duty to do this on behalf of all the residents of this great state. And the injustice that I see is happening at our airports.
How can it be that in an industry where profits are soaring contracted airport workers are paid so little that many of them have to turn to public assistance just to make ends meet? Not only are these workers living on the brink, from paycheck to paycheck, some employees at Newark Liberty International Airport are homeless and living in a shelter. Shouldn’t people who work for a living be able to make a living?
Most airport workers make about $10.10 per hour. That doesn’t add up to much if you do the math, about $22,000 a year, which is less than the federal poverty level for a family of four. This figure is even more alarming if you consider a worker needs to earn at least $25 per hour in order to afford a decent two bedroom apartment in New Jersey according to a report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
Airport jobs used to be good jobs but that has changed since airlines started contracting out vital services to the lowest bidder. Some are irresponsible contractors like PrimeFlight Aviation Services, which contracts with United Airlines at Newark Liberty International Airport and 48 other airports across the country. It’s ironic that a company that identifies itself as “God centered and faith based” also a history of health and safety citations as well as wage and hour claims.
This race to the bottom fueled by outsourcing isn’t just hurting airport workers. Passengers don’t appear to be better off. Passenger complaints were up 20% in the first half of 2015 according to statistics from the United States Transportation Department. And tickets and fees have not come down despite the drop in oil prices. Clearly the real winners here are industry executives who are making record profits.
I believe that airlines should share their good fortune with the employees who help to generate these profits? Baggage handlers, sky caps, wheel chair attendants, cabin cleaners and other airport workers aren’t asking for much, just a $15 hourly wage, safe working conditions and a union. The Port Authority bumped up workers’ pay to $10.10 but it still hasn’t lived up to its promise to release its higher wage and benefits plan. Meanwhile, the lives of airport workers and their families hang in the balance.
I am certain that if Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were alive today, he would stand with these hardworking men and women just like he stood by sanitation workers in Memphis back in 1968. The sanitation workers went on strike to protest unsafe working conditions and low wages. It’s a travesty that 50 years later, airport workers face similar hardships. For them, Dr. King’s words ring true that “justice delayed is justice denied.”
Ray Lesniak of Elizabeth is the Senator from the 20th Legislative District.