After two days of intense negotiations, airlines at Philadelphia International Airport and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) reached an agreement on "labor peace" language in a new five- to seven-year lease with the city.
Beginning July 1, about 2,000 workers employed by airline subcontractors, including skycaps, wheelchair attendants, aircraft cabin cleaners, and baggage handlers, will be paid $12 an hour, in keeping with a "living wage" standard approved by Philadelphia voters in May 2014. The workers now earn as little as $7.75 an hour plus tips.
The airlines, led by American Airlines, agreed to lease terms that support workers' rights to join labor unions and that ensure the wage standard will be enforced with airline subcontractors.
A City Council committee approved a bill Thursday enabling the city to execute the lease. It will be voted on by the full Council on Thursday.
"We worked with both the city and the SEIU to come up with provisions that we could all live with and be happy with," said Michael Minerva, American Airlines vice president of government and airport affairs.
The lease states that airlines will not oppose union-organizing efforts by the subcontracted workers. The 22 airlines serving Philadelphia airport agreed to send letters to their contractors, pledging "not to terminate agreements with any contractors if their employees elect to organize. That's a new commitment that American and the other airlines are making," Minerva said.
Gabriel Morgan, vice president of SEIU Local 32BJ, said: "We think this is a great deal for our union, and for workers at the airport."
Many airport workers employed directly by the airlines and the city are union members. And the SEIU is trying to organize the low-paid airline subcontractor employees.
"Contractors at the airport who have routinely been violating the law will now be required to follow all federal and local labor laws, or else lose their contracts," Morgan said. "The airlines have really stepped forward and said, 'We're going to make sure our contractors are following the law.' It's a historic first step."
The interfaith clergy group POWER, which has held prayer vigils and demonstrations in support of the subcontracted workers, supports the new lease agreement.
The airlines adopted language that satisfies a "labor peace" ordinance approved by City Council in December.
"For the SEIU, it was having a clear signal out there from American, as the largest airline," Minerva said. American transports 70 percent of the passengers in Philadelphia.
"The SEIU's concern was the subcontractors were afraid to organize because American, or the other airlines, would not like that and would retaliate," Minerva said. "So we agreed to issue a letter to our vendors, saying that we support union organization and we won't terminate a company just because their workers organize."
American, as a "heavily unionized company, takes pride in our employee and union relations," Minerva said.