New York, New Jersey airport workers to see wage hikes

Workers at New York-area airports will see their wages nearly double after the agency that operates the airports approved a series of hikes through 2023, bringing to a close years of protests.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey voted unanimously to raise the hourly minimum wage for workers at its airports from $10.45 to $19. The increases will directly impact roughly 20,000 of the 70,000 workers at LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy and Newark Liberty International airports who make minimum wage and perform tasks such as cleaning planes, moving baggage, operating concession stands and providing security, officials said.

Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton called it "a great day for airport workers striving for economic justice." Dozens of airport workers have attended monthly Port Authority board meetings for several years, occasionally engaging in boisterous demonstrations over wages.

On Thursday they gave a long, loud cheer as the board approved the measure unanimously. It will undergo a 60-day review before being finalized, board chairman Kevin O'Toole said.

The first raise will occur in September, hiking wages to $13.60 for New York airport workers and to $12.45 in New Jersey. Wages for workers in both states will rise in tandem after that, to $15.60 in 2019; $16.20 in 2020; $17 in 2021; $18 in 2022; and $19 in 2023.

Cotton said a study at San Francisco's airport found that higher wages led to better worker performance and less turnover. It wasn't immediately clear how the additional labor costs to be borne by private contractors at the airports would affect airline prices. O'Toole said those issues would be discussed during the review period.

For Carrol Cort, of Brooklyn, a security worker at JFK Airport who took part in some of the protests, Thursday's outcome means she won't have to regularly work double shifts to make ends meet and miss out on time with her 18- and 14-year-old daughters.

"It means a lot to me," Cort said. "It gives me a chance to raise my family the way I'm supposed to. Instead of working 16 hours a day, I can be home raising my kids the way I should be."

Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who has advocated raising New Jersey's minimum wage, attended Thursday's meeting and praised the board for taking action but chastised them for a previous disparity between wages at New York and New Jersey airports, dating back to 2014.

"At the root of this is the old politics," Murphy said. "New York raised the minimum wage, New Jersey didn't. But instead of ensuring all employees would be paid based on the work they did, the Port Authority only raised wages for those working in New York, where the law required it."

Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo raised wages for workers at New York's LaGuardia and JFK airports, while then-Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie declined to do so for New Jersey airport workers.

Cuomo, who also signed legislation in 2016 to eventually raise New York's minimum wage to $15 for all workers, said Friday, "This action is about decency and respect, and by raising the minimum wage for the dedicated men and women who fuel our regional economy, New York will continue to serve as a beacon of progress and opportunity for all."

O'Toole, who along with Cotton started at the Port Authority last fall, said the board had a productive meeting last month on the subject before discussions intensified in the days leading up to Thursday's meeting. Developments apparently proceeded swiftly, as the vote wasn't included on the agenda released this week.