FIVE TO SIX hundred airport baggage handlers, airplane cleaners and wheelchair attendants skipped work yesterday to protest that many are still earning minimum wage or close to it despite passage of a city law last year that called for them to have gotten raises.
The nonunion employees started the day protesting where they work, Philadelphia International Airport, then moved on to City Hall, where they rallied in solidarity with City Council members Kenyatta Johnson, Ed Neilson, Blondell Reynolds Brown, Maria Quinones-Sanchez and Curtis Jones.
"This is our house, this is your house," Brown told the protesters, who amassed on City Hall's main spiral staircase.
"The work is not done yet," she repeated three times. "So, we will be here tomorrow, and the next day and the next day until the work is done," the at-large councilwoman said, drawing thunderous applause.
"The workers at the Philadelphia International Airport are the backbone in making sure that airport operates," said Johnson, whose 2nd District includes the airport.
"There is no way in the world that an airport can be making billions of dollars and the workers are only making pennies and cents," added Johnson, who led the workers in chanting "shut it down" and pledged to work with them to get their employers to pay up.
The protesters work for airport subcontractors Prospect Airport Services, which employs the plane cleaners and wheelchair attendants, and PrimeFlight Airline, which employs the baggage handlers.
Pursuant to an executive order signed by Mayor Nutter and City Council's passage of a minimum-wage standard ordinance - both last year - contractors and subcontractors that do business with the city must pay their workers about $12 an hour. But the airport protesters are still earning between $7 to $8 an hour and their average annual salaries are $15,000, said Gabriel Morgan, vice president of the Service Employees International Union 32BJ, which is supporting the workers.
"We came here to say, 'Thank you [City Council], but nothing happened.' We're going to fight until something happens," Morgan said.
Prospect Airport Services, of Des Plaines, Ill., released a statement in which it said, "An increase in the base minimum wage for employees pursuant to the mayor's recent executive order in the near future is anticipated."
The statement said eligible employees already have access to affordable health-care coverage through the company in conjunction with the Affordable Care Act; and that paid sick leave will soon be available as a result of a recently adopted city ordinance.
PrimeFlight Airline, of Nashville, Tenn., declined to comment because the official who handles media inquiries was not at work yesterday, a company representative said.