St. Paul (October 28, 2013) — Airport workers were joined by Representative Ryan Winkler and community allies Monday to bring attention to a new report titled “BringDignity Back to MSP” highlighting the high costs of poverty wages for many workers at the airport. The report shows airlines have outsourced much of their passenger service responsibilities, including cabin cleaning, cart driving, and wheelchair services. This results in low wages, poor working conditions and inadequate staffing levels, costing taxpayers $1.7 million per year and undercutting the Metropolitan Airports Commission’s (MAC) vision of providing the “best airport experience in North America.”
The Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport (MSP) generates $10 billion a year for the Twin Cities economy and is responsible for 20,000 jobs directly tied to airport operations. These jobs have an average annual salary of $66,000, however one group of workers has been left out of this economic development. There are approximately 600 workers at MSP employed by contractors that the airlines hired to clean the insides of the planes and to provide wheelchair and cart services to their passengers. These workers are paid an average of $7.73 an hour, with many at or near minimum wage with virtually no benefits.
“I have paid my taxes, served my country in the military, and gone to college, yet here I am making $7.25 an hour,” said Darcy Landau, an employee at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. “This low wage keeps me from saving money and planning for the future. It’s not enough to cover basic necessities. If it weren’t for the VA (Veterans’ Administration), I don’t know how I would survive,” said Landau, 55, who has worked at the airport for over four years.
The combination of low wages and no health coverage means that many of the families of airport workers must rely on taxpayer-funded safety net programs in order to survive. The report estimates that $1.7 million a year is spent on public benefits because these contractors pay poverty wages. The MAC prides itself on being able to raise enough revenue that it does not require general tax support, but in the case of these passenger service workers, taxpayers are subsidizing the contractors through things such as public assistance, medical care, food stamps, and low-income housing.
Like a majority of workers across the country earning poverty wages, these airport workers are adults and for a majority this is the main source of income for themselves and their families. “We know that 137,000 children statewide would benefit from increased parental income, including many children of workers here at the airport,” said Peggy Flanagan, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota and Raise the Wage coalition co-chair, who joined the workers at the press conference. “Children who come from families with sufficient income have better outcomes with regards to their success and ability to flourish in school and later in life.”
The workers were also joined by Representative Ryan Winkler, who is the lead author of HF92, the bill that raises the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour. Winkler’s bill passed the Minnesota House of Representatives but differences with the Senate version of the legislation caused the bill to not make it out of conference committee before the end of session.
“Minnesota’s economy is strong enough to provide people the dignity of supporting their families through work, without turning to public assistance or the food shelf,” said Winkler. “That’s why I’m here to support these workers’ efforts to organize, and why, together, we are building a coalition to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2015. It’s about time we all start doing better.”
Read the full Bring Dignity Back to MSP report, written by SEIU Local 26, HERE.