COUNCIL APPROVES COUNCILMEMBER KENYATTA JOHNSON’S PHL PREVAILING WAGE BILL TO PROTECT FRONTLINE WORKERS AT PHILADELPHIA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

In Council News, Kenyatta Johnson, News, Uncategorized by PHL Council

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Philadelphia, PA (June 24, 2021):  Philadelphia City Council overwhelmingly approved legislation sponsored by Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District) that would ensure frontline workers at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL Airport) not only receive family-sustaining wages, but also affordable healthcare and paid sick leave. 

Bill # 210421A, known as The PHL Prevailing Wage bill, provides specific classification of PHL workers to receive up to $15.06 per hour, an additional $4.54 hourly wage supplement to obtain health insurance and up to 56 hours of paid sick leave annually among other benefits. Virtually all frontline workers at PHL Airport are currently uninsured, while virtually all frontline workers elsewhere throughout Philadelphia are covered by prevailing wage standards do have health coverage. 

“I want to thank all of my Council colleagues for voting yes on this bill and Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration for their support,” said Johnson, whose Council district includes PHL Airport. “I have said from the introduction of this legislation that I stand in support of the unions at Philadelphia International Airport.  The new PHL Prevailing Wage Bill will not only make sure that the workers make a living wage but will assure they have meaningful access to health benefits. The Airport is one of the biggest and most profitable airports in the country and the workers—many of whom make less than $30,000 a year in salary–shouldn’t have to worry that they could be bankrupted at any time by an illness or injury.” 

The bill covers baggage and freight handlers and inspectors, cabin cleaners, passenger service agents, skycaps, wheelchair attendants, retail, food and beverage service workers, food preparation workers and other airport service workers employed by an airline operating under a lease with the City of Philadelphia, or by a contractor for such an airline. The City of Philadelphia owns the PHL Airport, and airlines and other private businesses there operate under lease agreements with the City. 

After hearing from small business owners at the Airport and concerns from the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, Councilmember Johnson amended the bill before final passage.  The PHL Prevailing Wage Bill would become law once Kenney signs it, except for restaurant and retail workers it will delay the wage standard until January 2022 and health standard until July 2023. Even after the bill becomes law, it will only apply to new leases, not existing leases, further staggering implementation. 

In recognition of the increased costs imposed by the bill,  City Council also approved today Councilmember Johnson’s Bill #210505, also dubbed as the MarketPlace bill.  MarketPlace PHL is the private partner with the City of Philadelphia in the redevelopment of the award-winning PHL Food and Shops program within the PHL Airport.  

The MarketPlace bill authorizes continued financial relief to MarketPlace under its current lease at the PHL Airport, using federal relief funds provided directly to the Airport.  Johnson is committed to working with PHL Airport leadership to do an in-depth study of the economic impacts of the new prevailing wage requirements on small businesses and to explore other possible relief measures for airport businesses. 

The PHL Prevailing Wage legislation is supported by 32BJ SEIU and UNITE HERE, which represent thousands of union workers at PHL Airport.  The PHL Prevailing Wage bill covers all SEIU 32BJ and UNITE HERE workersOther supportive testimony was provided at today’s Council meeting by representatives of POWER Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association. 

Councilmember Johnson’s PHL Prevailing Wage bill would do the following: 

  • Raises airport workers’ wages: The bill would establish a prevailing wage for service workers at PHL Airport, setting the rate for those airport workers to the prevailing wage rate for unarmed security officers in Philadelphia, currently $15.06 per hour and subject to annual increases. Contracted workers at PHL covered by 32BJ’s collective bargaining agreement currently earn a minimum of $13.60 per hour; airport workers employed by non-union contractors have a minimum wage of about $12.40 per hour. 
  • Creates health insurance standard for airport contractors: Under the bill, airport workers would also receive an additional hourly wage supplement to allow them to obtain health insurance. The health supplement would be equivalent to the health benefit standard required under the federal Service Contract Act, currently $4.54 per hour. 
  • Creates paid leave standard: Covered workers would receive a minimum of 10 paid holidays per year, a minimum paid vacation schedule of 2 weeks after 1 year of service, 3 weeks after 8 years of service, 4 weeks after 15 years, and up to 56 hours of paid sick leave annually.

“We celebrate the compassionate City Council members that heard their constituents across the City of Philadelphia loud and clear when they supported lifting PHL’s essential and low-wage workers to a family sustaining wage and protecting their health and lives with affordable healthcare by passing this update to the Prevailing Wage law today,” said Gabe Morgan, Vice President and State Director of 32BJ SEIU. “ I would especially like to thank Councilman Kenyatta Johnson for his leadership as prime sponsor of the bill, and the many co-sponsors that worked to build the final votes that won this fight.”  

With 175,000 members in eleven states and Washington, D.C., including 22,000 in Pennsylvania, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country. 32BJ represents over 2,500 workers at Philadelphia International Airport, which includes cabin cleaners, baggage handlers, cargo workers, airport cleaners, airport security workers, food service workers, wheelchair assistants, skycaps, and ticket agents. 

According to SEIU 32BJ, contracted frontline Philadelphia International Airport workers,  who are overwhelmingly African-American, are paid as little as $12.40 per hour and often without healthcare. These workers have difficulty socially distancing from the traveling public and have worked even while exposed to COVID-19. A recent study showed that as residents of one of America’s poorest cities, Philadelphia’s essential workers were 55% more likely to contract the COVID19 virus than any other workers in Philadelphia. 

 “Today we celebrate a powerful victory after years of struggle for quality and accessible health insurance at the airport,” UNITE HERE Local 274 President Rosslyn Wuchinich said. “So many airport workers worked throughout this pandemic without health insurance.   This law should change that reality.  The amounts airport employers will need to contribute are enough to pay for free, quality health insurance for so many airport workers.”  

UNITE HERE is the largest hospitality and food service workers union in the country, with over 300,000 members. UNITE HERE Local 274 represents about 1,200 airline catering and airport concessions workers at Philadelphia International Airport. 

The PHL Prevailing Wage bill was also amended to add employees who work at the on-site PHL Airport parking facilities under the legislation. Currently, the on-site PHL Airport parking facilities are operated and managed by the Philadelphia Parking Authority. The on-site airport parking facilities workers would only be covered under the legislation if control of the parking facilities ever goes to a private company .  

While Councilmember Johnson was the main sponsor of the PHL Prevailing Wage bill, other co-sponsors included Council President Darrell Clarke and Councilmembers Mark Squilla, Jamie Gauthier, Curtis Jones, Jr., Bobby Henon, Maria Quiñones Sánchez, Cindy Bass, Cherelle Parker, Kendra Brooks, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, Helen Gym and Isaiah Thomas. 

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