Portland Airport Workers Win $15!

airport
Passenger service assistants will earn $15 an hour, but workers continue to call on the Port of Portland to require $15 for all PDX ground service workers.

For years, Gladys Hernandez has had to make tough financial decisions. As a passenger service assistant (PSA), she transports travelers throughout Portland International Airport in wheelchairs, helping passengers navigate their travel efficiently and safely. It’s a physical job that keeps her in shape—and for that, she considers herself lucky. While struggling to make ends meet on a $12 hourly minimum wage despite years of service, she has often had to forego her diabetes treatments to make her mortgage payments.

But after a years-long campaign to raise the minimum wage at PDX for ground service workers, Gladys and other PSAs at Portland International Airport will receive a raise to $15 per hour beginning January 1, 2019.

“Our hard work is part of what wins the airport so many awards and makes the airport profitable,” said Gladys, who works for service contractor Huntleigh USA and is a member of SEIU Local 49. “We shouldn’t be scraping to pay bills and keep food on the table. We formed a union and took action to get airport executives to listen to us, and I believe it paid off.”

Since 2013, airport workers have been pushing the Port of Portland to take action to fix the poverty problem among PDX employers. Workers testified before the Port Commission, sharing their stories of struggling to pay rent, going without food or medical attention, showing up to work exhausted because of working two jobs, and going years without a vacation.

In October, PDX workers held a demonstration in the airport and at the Port of Portland offices during a global day of action, during which airport workers around the world held strikes, pickets, and rallies calling for higher wages and better working conditions.

The raise to $15 is a victory for PSAs but leaves behind hundreds of other PDX workers—including baggage handlers, aircraft cleaners and fuelers, and ramp agents—who are paid less than $15.

Portland International Airport has historically lagged behind other leading airports in wage standards. At San Francisco International (SFO), the minimum wage is $17 per hour, plus $5.15 in employer-paid healthcare costs. Seattle-Tacoma International adopted a $15 minimum wage years ago.  And after a prolonged campaign by airport workers, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey recently voted to raise the minimum wage for airport workers at Newark, JFK and LaGuardia to $19 an hour, which is the highest minimum wage in the country.

“This raise is the latest victory for airport workers who are standing up to the airline industry and calling for sustainable jobs that families can live on,” said SEIU Local 49 President Meg Niemi. “We applaud the Port of Portland for listening to the workers that give the airport its stellar reputation, and we call on the Port to finish the job and raise the wage for all PDX workers.”

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