Port Authority increasing minimum wage to $19 for airport workers

The Port Authority on Thursday voted to increase minimum wages for airport workers to $19 an hour by 2023.

Members of the region’s airport workforce erupted into thunderous applause inside a Jersey City board room. It was a labor win years in the making, with union forces pressuring the bi-state authority month after month at public meetings to act on what they described as low wages for some 40,000 employees, many of which work difficult and vital jobs for airport operations.

Miguel Diaz, 56, a wheelchair attendant at LaGuardia Airport was overwhelmed with emotion as he listened to the vote and celebrations from a bench outside the board room. He has bad knees and couldn’t stand in the back of the meeting room with his colleagues. For Diaz, the vote helps fight eviction from his home in Williamsburg.

“The current situation has made it hard for us to save money. It’s always check to check,” Diaz said. “With this, it gives me an opportunity to be safe, live a better life — actually have a social life and be a part of the new New York.

“It reaffirms and re-establishes your belief in the political system — that when we do things together, we can make it happen,” he continued.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who effectively controls the Port Authority alongside New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, delivered remarks in support of the wage hikes to the board before the vote and spoke broadly of the challenges facing the working class and the “resentment” felt from unjust wages.

“The middle class is going backward. Working men and women are going backward,” Cuomo said. “That is a cause of the frustration and the anger and the anxiety. It is not a perception. It is a reality.”

The staggered wage increases will eventually close a pay gap between workers in New Jersey and New York. Newark Liberty International Airport workers will see an increase from the current $10.45 hourly pay, while minimum wages are LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports will rise from $13.

The first increase will come on Nov. 1, when the minimum will rise to $13.60 per hour for workers at the two New York airports and to $12.45 an hour for Newark employees.

Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton and Chairman Kevin O’Toole rationalized the fare increase not only to deliver social justice, but to improve safety by hopefully curbing a high turnover rate of airport employees. O’Toole sad he was “comfortable” that the resolution would withstand legal challenges from airlines, among which there were fears that higher wages could mean more expenses for riders.

“These new wage levels are essential to the safe, secure and high-quality operation of our airports,” Cotton said. They provide long-overdue social justice to our airports’ dedicated workers.”