By Mark Tyler
and Thomas Higgins
As an airport-lease agreement that will bind US Airways, the airport's major carrier, to a long-term contract is considered, Mayor Nutter and City Council should insist that Philadelphia's living-wage ordinance applies to the deal.
By linking the ordinance and the agreement, which was introduced in Council last week and is expected to be heard before the Transportation and Utilities Committee Wednesday, the city would ensure that employers of city-contracted businesses are paid a family-sustaining minimum wage of at least 150 percent of the state's minimum wage - $10.88 an hour, plus benefits.
This would mean that US Airways, and other companies connected with the airport, would fairly pay employees who provide essential services that keep our region's largest economic engine running smoothly and profitably each day. How profitably? Last year, the Philadelphia airport generated $14 billion in revenue. US Airways posted $637 million in profits in 2012 - an eightfold increase over the previous year. No one who works as hard as the city's airport employees should be making poverty-level wages while the companies that employ them make millions.
A mayoral appointee oversees the airport and, in that capacity, negotiates lease agreements when they are up for renewal with the airlines and a terminal management company that outsources critical work. City Council then must vote to approve these agreements. Because the airport is a public good, city leadership must not allow the airport to become yet another publicly supported trough of low-wage labor for large, extremely profitable private corporations.
In the shadows of this economic engine is a city of deep poverty. According to recent reports, Philadelphia has one of the highest rates of poverty in the country. More than 200,000 Philadelphians struggle to survive on less than $5,700 a year (for an individual) and $11,700 (for a family of four).
Philadelphia doesn't have to be like this. We can build a city where private enterprise can thrive, where our publicly supported economic engines - the airport, the Convention Center, and the Navy Yard - can flourish, and where workers who help generate profits are paid wages that keep their families out of poverty.
As faith leaders who minister daily to those in poverty, we urge the mayor and City Council to apply the living-wage ordinance to the airport-lease agreement. If they do so, they will have an opportunity to bring nearly 1,500 low-wage jobs in line with the standards already applied to thousands of other city-contracted jobs. They can help our city take a step out of deep poverty.
Let's organize to make sure they do.