New York & New Jersey Airport Workers Win Big Raises

It isn’t easy cleaning cluttered aircraft at a busy metropolitan airport. But now, Gertrudes Lopez-Ortiz, a cabin cleaner at Newark Liberty International Airport, is getting a well-deserved, long-overdue raise. “Now is a dream come true for me and my co-workers,” she said. “I was here when the Port [Authority of New York and New Jersey] originally promised this in 2014.”

Robust Increases in a “Raise-Less” Economy. Lopez-Ortiz is one of 40,000 cabin cleaners, restaurant staff, and other low-wage workers at New York’s three major airports who are getting substantial pay increases. That’s all too rare these days, especially for workers like these who are employed by contractors and subcontractors for airlines, terminal operators, and concessions.

  • These workers will get raises every year through 2023, when they’ll be paid at least $19 an hour.
  • The raises will lift salaries at these airports to $35,000 a year. For the lowest-paid workers, that’s an average annual increase of 13.5 percent.
  • Currently, typical wages at Newark International Airport are $10.45-an-hour. In New York, which enacted a state minimum wage in 2016, typical wages at JFK International and LaGuardia airports are $13 an hour.

Bargaining, not Begging. Having organized with SEIU (Service Employees International Union), about half of the workers at these airports negotiated their first contract in 2016, with health and safety protections, fairer scheduling and disciplinary provisions, and recognition for years of service.

  • Fighting for their raises, these workers kept attending meetings of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. They testified about how hard it is to feed their families, pay rent, and afford basic healthcare while living on low wages.

Elections Matter. While New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo supported pay raises, New Jersey’s Republican former Governor Chris Christie was a roadblock. Soon after newly elected Democrat Phil Murphy took office in January, the raises were approved.