Service workers at Philadelphia International Airport will get a bump in pay and health benefits beginning next year under a bill signed into law by Mayor Jim Kenney, officials confirmed Friday as City Council started its fall legislative session.
The law applies to several thousand workers employed by airline subcontractors and airport concessionaires. They hold jobs as airplane cabin cleaners, wheelchair attendants, security personnel, and food services staff, among others. The legislation establishes an hourly minimum wage of $15.06, and an additional $4.54 hourly wage supplement primarily for health insurance.
The increases in pay and benefits will phase in over multiple years for different groups of workers, depending on factors such as when their employer’s lease at the airport comes up for renewal.
Some of the covered workers make $13.6
0 an hour — less than $30,000 a year — and labor unions had argued the legislation would make a crucial difference for members who’ve worked during the coronavirus pandemic, yet are often unable to afford insurance.
“The bill represents economic justice for those workers who have put their lives on the front line working during the health pandemic,” said Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, the bill’s main sponsor.
The workers covered by the new law are predominantly from Black and brown communities that experienced racial disparities in access to vaccines and testing for COVID-19, Johnson said.
“They truly deserve to have the opportunity to have quality health care,” he said.
City Council passed the bill unanimously in June, ahead of its summer recess. The legislation had the support of Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, whose members includes workers for airline subcontractors, and Unite Here Local 274, which represents workers in catering and concessions.
American Airlines, the dominant air carrier at PHL, along with some small business owners who operate airport concessions, pushed back on the legislation in the spring, saying it would increase costs as the travel industry was still recovering from pandemic losses.
For restaurant and retail concessions, the bill was amended to delay the minimum wage requirement until January 2022, and the health benefits requirement until July 2023.
A spokesperson for Mayor Kenney’s office said Friday the administration is committed to supporting small businesses and workers at PHL, “and we believe that in time, this legislation will make all of us better off.”
“Airport workers — many of whom are Black and brown and were on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic and health impacts — deserve to earn fair, living wages to support their families,” spokesperson Kevin Lessard said. “At the same time, we understand the pressures that airport businesses, especially small concessionaires, are under given the challenging economic environment and the pandemic’s effect on travel.”
American Airlines had no comment Friday.
Florence Brown, a spokesperson for PHL, said the airport is studying “the potential business impacts” of the legislation, and will share results “in coming months.”
PHL “is dedicated to enabling the success of the stakeholders that make the airport a safe and pleasant place to fly,” Brown said, and “supports efforts to increase opportunities for Black and brown businesses and workers.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.