Christina Watson says the $10.20 an hour she makes as a security officer at Newark Airport is barely enough to pay for the utilities for her home.
“I work just to make my family stay afloat. We struggling, really struggling. I am the working poor,” she said.
This isn’t the first time members of labor union 32BJ SEIU have showed up in droves for a meeting of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. They’ve been fighting for years to raise their wages as subcontractors to $18 an hour, and add benefits that most go without or struggle to pay for independently.
“Once upon a time when you enter the the airports you’d see employees of all the airlines. That is no longer the case. Right now, they almost all work for contractors who work for the carriers, whether it’s the front line person who you see, the red cap when you get off out of your car, or the person who takes your bag,” said Kevin Brown, 32BJ SEIU New Jersey state director.
They’re pleading their case to a board of several new commissioners at the Port Authority and hanging their hats on the promises made by newly-elected leaders.
“What’s different today is we have a new governor in the state of New Jersey, a governor who has stood with these workers and has said on these very steps that he wants to make sure the airport workers have family sustaining wages and health benefits,” Brown said.
Earlier this year the New Jersey Legislature passed a bill that would have raised airport worker wages to $18, but Gov. Chris Christie later vetoed it. New York airport workers lead a similar campaign, but that effort stalled in the Legislature.
And if their personal pleas weren’t enough, they’re turning to their faith — quite literally — bringing in respected members of the clergy.
“The need to treat others with dignity, especially the working poor, especially those who we may choose not to see at times but we believe that when we see people we’re responsible for them,” said Rev. Timothy Graff from the Archdiocese of Newark.
The board also heard updates on the Bayonne Bridge project, the 2018 budget and upgrades to the PATH system.
“Today I’m requesting authorization for a $79.5 million project to overhaul the existing pass rail car fleet,” said Michael Marino, director of rail transit for PATH.
In all, the PATH officials will spend $300 million in total for 50 new trains, rehab for old ones and a new electrical substation. This, they say, to help with record ridership, which hit 78 million last year. But it was new Chairman Kevin O’Toole who turned the page heading into the new year.
“The shadows that you saw in the past are disappearing and disappeared. So, we thank you for working with us. All the folks either listening or employees, better days are ahead. I look forward to working with each and every one of you in the future,” O’Toole said.