By Desirée Taylor
They do the same work, but employees at Newark Liberty Airport are not slated for a pay hike like their counterparts at the other two Port Authority-controlled airports in New York.
“If Gov. Cuomo and the Port Authority agree making the minimum wage $10.10, then why hold us back when we’re also under Port Authority contract?” asked Newark Airport baggage handler Demetrius Debiase.
New York airport workers staged a protest demanding higher wages last month at LaGuardia. Not long afterwards, Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye issued a letter to several airline CEOs telling them “to immediately effect an increase in the hourly wage by $1 an hour.” But the letter makes no reference to Newark Airport workers.
“Gov. Christie said no, workers shouldn’t get that. We’re surprised and we think that’s a despicable decision,” said NJ State Director of SEIU 32BJ Kevin Brown.
Union officials blame politics. The Port Authority is a two-state agency where top officials are appointed by the governors of New York and New Jersey. New York Gov. Cuomo — a Democrat — supports raising the minimum wage.
“New York said we want to increase wages, New Jersey says no. That doesn’t reflect one agency, it reflects two,” said Brown.
Union officials say it reflects Gov. Christie’s agenda. He recently appointed Deborah Gramiccioni as deputy executive director at the Port Authority to replace Bill Baroni — a casualty of the bridge lane closing scandal. Grammicioni says she had no advance knowledge of Foye’s order to raise wages.
And she adds, “We are absolutely in favor of reasonable wage adjustments negotiated through the collective bargaining process. But this directive raises complex labor, business and legal issues.”
A wage hike in Newark would impact some 4,000 workers, most of whom currently make $8.25 per hour — 25 cents more than the average employee at LaGuardia and JFK airports in New York. Critics say that’s not a livable wage.
“Even if it’s a dollar more, it would be a lot better because it would be an extra $80 in your check will help you pay your bills,” said Debiase.
Many Newark Airport workers aren’t part of a union, but union officials say they will stand with them to help them get the wage increase they deserve.