By Briana Vannozzi
Union workers shouted down the Port Authority Board of Commissioners after Chairman John Degnan made it abundantly clear there would be no increase to their wages.
“Minimum wages, in my mind, are meant to be decided by the elected representatives of the public in their respective states, New Jersey and New York. New York has a law with the Port Authority is obliged to follow in the state of New York. New Jersey has a law which the Port Authority is obliged to follow in the state of New Jersey. I will vote no on this resolution.”
For two years, Newark Airport workers — represented by 32BJ SEIU — have been proposing lifting the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The workers clean airports and planes, assist disabled and port passenger luggage. They’ve also asked for parity with their New York counterparts. As of Dec. 31 this year, that would be $11 an hour.
“It makes absolutely no logical sense to have two different wages for the same job that’s done under the auspice of the same agency to have two different wages,” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg.
“You can lift our lives out of poverty at Newark Liberty International Airport by voting yes for $15 an hour for all three airports who do all the same work,” said Nancy Vazquez of 32BJ SEIU.
One after one, supporters implored the board to vote in favor.
“You know well that these airport workers are on the front lines and they’re often the first to respond to an emergency. Tell me, would you want to put your life on the line for $10.10 an hour?” asked Rev. Ronald Tuff of First Bethel Baptist Church in Irvington.
“There is no reason that they should be treated as second class workers,” said New York Sen. Brad Hoylman.
Union members had a brief moment of hope as Vice Chairman Steven Cohen recommended a plan on behalf of Commissioner Ray Pocino — a known labor advocate — to provide parity.
“The concept is that the board is being asked to adopt a policy that would set the minimum wage in all port facilities — which means regardless of what state they are in — at the highest minimum wage level of where any port facility is,” Cohen said.
It was struck down.
“Chairman Degnan and the majority of the New Jersey commissioners turned their back on the working poor of New Jersey. That’s disrespectful. For two years we’ve been waiting for this vote. The vote came today and Mr. Degnan turned his back on New Jersey workers,” said 32BJ SEIU Vice President Kevin Brown.
Workers will continue to fight. Twenty-eight legislators from New Jersey signed a letter urging the Port Authority to provide parity between the two states and right now the ball is still in their court.