By Michael Hill
Hundreds of airport and food service workers marched outside Newark Liberty International Airport from Terminal B to Terminal C in a fight for a minimum wage of $15 an hour.
Fast food cook Alvin Mator has four children.
“I make $7.25 an hour. Depend on food stamps just to put food on my table. Can’t pay bills or rent on time,” he said.
Nancy Vazquez has been an airport skycap for 24 years.
“Let me tell you something, when I first started here I was making $2.13 an hour but they weren’t charging for bags, there were no kiosk machines so people were more forthcoming. I was making a living. Now I get paid $2.10 an hour — I went down three cents — they charge for bags, they have self-checking kiosk machines. We’re living in poverty,” she said.
Keven Brown, vice president of 32BJ SEIU, said, “Because of the airport policy — that was established after the first year of our efforts — they raised the wage to $10.10 minimum. So it’s almost $5 an hour [more], it’s a 50 percent pay increase for these workers, for 10,000 workers at this airport and so I say to all the people in New Jersey today, what would your life be like if you increased your pay by 50 percent?”
Inside the airport, some workers staged a sit-in and then heard Newark Mayor Ras Baraka champion their cause.
“While JFK and LaGuardia have moved forward, PrimeFlight is still treating our workers here like second class citizens,” Baraka said.
“Well, the governor appoints half the commissioners and so we can assure that those commissioners — the ones who support workers’ rights to a better life — $25 are up and a union,” said Brown said.
“I see that we are going to have some very comprehensive reform around minimum wage that I hope is going to be just that — comprehensive — so we can take into consideration all of the issues that are impacting a lower wage-earning person’s ability to be successful,” said New Jersey Business and Industry Association President and CEO Michele Siekerka.
For now, workers look forward to their Fight for $15 taking flight.