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Letters: Airport workers (finally) need a raise and a union

Anthony Reynolds got fired on Sunday, Dec. 7. Before that, the 51-year-old West Philadelphia native worked as a cabin cleaner at the Philadelphia International Airport making $8.50 an hour.

ANTHONY REYNOLDS got fired on Sunday, Dec. 7.

Before that, the 51-year-old West Philadelphia native worked as a cabin cleaner at the Philadelphia International Airport making $8.50 an hour. For nearly six months Reynolds left work disappointed because his employer denied him a wage increase to $10.88 an hour, which was mandated by Philadelphia voters and Mayor Nutter. Over those six months, Anthony worked through the Ebola scare despite inadequate safety procedures, he supported his co-workers when they striked for better conditions and he testified twice in City Council about his working conditions.

The day Reynolds testified in Council on Nov. 19, he was suspended from his job for a slight infraction. He was ultimately fired last Sunday. He never received his raise, his working conditions never improved and he was fired shortly after publicly advocating for both. As a city, we cannot stand for this. Last week, I joined Council in voting for Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr.'s ordinance that will encourage labor peace at the airport by granting workers a process for resolving workplace disputes without fear of retaliation.

The workers of the airport deserve better. They deserve a wage that allows them to support their families. They deserve the wage that you, as Philadelphians, agreed was fair. If companies are going to profit at this city's airport and employ Philadelphians, they need to pay fair wages and be honest with their employees.

But it is not just about wages. Subcontracted airport workers don't have affordable health benefits. This forces them to rely on public assistance at a cost to taxpayers. Thousands of workers have no sick days. Instead of losing pay and risking their jobs, they instead risk sharing their germs with passengers and co-workers. High turnover and limited training degrade the passenger experience and make our airport less clean and efficient. And, as in Anthony's unfortunate case, they can be fired at the drop of a hat.

We have an opportunity to lift these 2,000 airport workers out of poverty by enforcing the $10.88 wage raise and ensuring that they are able to organize. There are thousands of airport workers like Anthony who cannot afford to wait. An analysis by the National Employment Law Project finds that every year that the airport workers don't get the raise they lose $16 million in earnings. That's $16 million we desperately need for economic activity and tax revenue for our schools.

Unless we fight to make sure that service jobs can be good, family-sustaining jobs, we're not taking a stand against poverty and we're not moving Philadelphia forward. There is no better place to take this stand than at the airport. The Philadelphia International Airport is the gateway to our city that supports more than 141,000 jobs in the Philadelphia region and brings more than $14 billion in economic activity to the area. What type of message are we sending if the people supporting our airport are not supported by us?

Kenyatta Johnson

City Council, 2nd District

No shame in law school exam postponements

I found Christine Flowers' Friday column "Spare us the trauma drama" to be melodramatic, hypocritical and completely disrespectful.

The column describes, almost as the crime of the century, the requests of some black law school students to postpone exams to allow them to participate in protests over the Michael Brown and Eric Garner grand-jury nonindictments.

These were only requests for postponements. Studying for law school exams involves a tremendous amount of time. I remember it well, and I actually requested and received one postponement of a law school final to attend my best friend's father's funeral. The professor understood that was important to me, and I took the final a week later. No big deal.

Ms. Flowers almost hysterically describes these students' requests as "trashing their educations in such a public way" and comments that "if they are so incapable of dealing with the unpleasant realities of life . . . the bar doesn't need them." That is just absurd, especially in light of Ms. Flowers' admission that she herself rescheduled one of her law school exams to attend her father's funeral. That sounds like an "unpleasant reality to life" to me, and Ms. Flowers apparently is not resigning from the bar.

Ms. Flowers is apparently a mind-reader as well, as she sneers that the black law students' requests were just "an excuse" to get out of exams and "prance around like spoiled children."

That's incredibly insulting to these young men and women. The grand-jury nonverdicts were traumatizing and beyond important to many people. As an attorney, I'm glad to see law students take a legal issue to heart, and try to make a difference outside of their textbooks. Those are exactly the type of attorneys, and citizens, we need more of. We already have too many who follow rules mechanically, worry only about how much money they can make and are willfully ignorant of the larger issues swirling around them.

Dave Lipshutz

Voorhees, N.J.