In a major victory for workers at Portland International Airport (PDX), the Port of Portland announced that it would implement a new wage standard for subcontracted airport workers. The move is a response to a demand from members of the airport workers union, SEIU Local 49. Subcontracted workers are disproportionately workers of color yet made some of the lowest wages at PDX. A wage floor will begin to correct long-term inequities at our airport.
The new policy will create a wage floor for PDX airline subcontracted workers of $15 per hour beginning July 1, and rising to $16.55 on January 1, 2022. For wheelchair workers, the majority of whom are SEIU Local 49 members and have been making $15 since 2019, the wage floor will rise more quickly to $16.55 on July 1 of this year.
“The Port moved in the right direction,” said Sergey Zalutskiy, a Passenger Service Agent at the airport. “As a union we have power, and our victory demonstrates that. The raise we’ll receive in July is a long overdue recognition that PDX workers are essential.”
PDX workers first made a demand for a new wage and benefit standard in March of 2020. Through the pandemic, PDX workers continued to fight for recognition for their work. The Port of Portland announced a new wage policy in December, but workers deemed it “too low, and too slow.” Continuing their fight, PDX workers organized a car caravan, wore union masks and stickers, testified at the Port commission, and called on community supporters.
“Both as a member of the Port Commission, and President of SEIU Local 49, I am pleased with the Port of Portland’s decision to advance racial and economic justice with a new wage standard. The Port has the ability to advance a powerful agenda for equity in our regional economy, and it it’s imperative it include the front-line workers who keep our airport running every day,” said Meg Niemi, SEIU Local 49 President and member of the Port of Portland Board of Commissioners.
Worker activity and steadfast support from elected officials and the Portland community contributed to the victory. Governor Kate Brown’s dedication to fairness and equity for front-line PDX workers was instrumental throughout the fight. Community supporters of PDX airport workers delivered a petition calling on the Port of Portland to implement an Airport Workers’ Bill of Rights in January.
In an exceptional move, the PDX Community Advisory Committee (CAC) voted in January to endorse PDX workers’ call for a Bill of Rights. Latino Network’s Ana Muñoz, a CAC member, testified before the Port of Portland Board of Commissioners in March: “One of the values we have at Latino Network… is “Accountability”: Our commitment to excellence and results. That’s why I’m here in support of PDX workers. I am committed to represent the unrepresented and to amplify their voices demanding for what is right.”
Despite the victory, PDX workers still have a long way to go to reaching their goal of good jobs for all airport workers. The Port of Portland refused to act on the two other essential elements of the Airport Workers Bill of Rights – paid time off, and access to affordable medical insurance.
“We know that this is a major step forward, but it isn’t enough,” said Donald Martin, a Passenger Service Agent at the airport. “As a union, working together with other airport workers, we are committed to continuing to fight for paid time off and affordable medical insurance. Airlines have flown high on our work for too long, and as air travel recovers, we will be ready to win the benefits that all PDX workers deserve.”