Toward Racial and Economic Equity at PDX

PDX Has A Racial Injustice Problem

Many jobs that are essential to air travel – such as baggage handlers, wheelchair assistants, and airport janitors – are subcontracted by airlines at Portland International Airport (PDX) and even the Port of Portland itself. Subcontracted jobs often pay poverty wages, offer no affordable health insurance, and no paid time off beyond the few sick days required by law. The workers who do these jobs at PDX are disproportionately people of color. Meanwhile white people remain overrepresented in high-quality jobs at the Port. The Port of Portland has the power to repair some of the harm done by subcontracting by setting standards for service contractors.

To Fix This Problem, the Port of Portland Must Adopt an Airport Worker Bill of Rights

Last year, PDX workers began calling on the Port of Portland – which operates the airport – to adopt an Airport Worker Bill of Rights. This would require PDX service contractors to do three things:

  • Pay fair wages – at least $3 above the Oregon minimum wage.
  • Provide additional paid time off so workers don’t have to choose between paying bills and coming to work sick.
  • Create a pathway to affordable health insurance, for all PDX service workers.

TAKE ACTION! Call Community Advisory Committee Chair Jeff Owen at 503-962-5854 to say you support an Airport Workers’ Bill of Rights!

Too Low, Too Slow: The Port of Portland Must Create a Better Wage Policy

disparities-5fb60d8bce6313-75685754In December, the Port of Portland announced a new wage policy for PDX service contractors in response to demands from frontline subcontracted workers. In 2021, new workers would be covered by an existing $15 wage standard, and in 2022 the PDX wage standard would increase to match the City of Portland’s “Fair Wage Policy.” The Port’s proposal takes no action to ensure availability of additional sick time or health insurance for PDX workers.

This policy is too low and too slow, for two reasons. An SEIU analysis found that of the hundreds of workers ostensibly covered by the policy, only 15% will receive a raise in 2021 as a result. By 2022, when workers will receive a raise, it will be their first in three years, having worked through a pandemic with flat wages. Even after that raise, a full-time PDX worker will make only 60% of the true cost of living – the “self-sufficiency standard” for Multnomah County.

What’s more, the Port failed to take any action to support a healthy workplace. The Port’s proposal takes no action to ensure availability of additional sick time or health insurance for PDX workers. Many PDX workers only have the five days of paid leave provided by state law, and no paid holidays or vacations. This pandemic highlighted how workers must be given time to stay home if they feel ill to help protect the community. Taking no action to improve PDX workers’ access to paid sick time and affordable health insurance demonstrates a failure by the Port of Portland to meet the moment in supporting public health at our airport.

TAKE ACTION! Call Community Advisory Committee Chair Jeff Owen at 503-962-5854 to say you support an Airport Workers’ Bill of Rights!

Anemic Action by Port of Portland Could Foster Labor Unrest

PDX wheelchair assistants have engaged in negotiations with their employers for months, with little progress on lifting up their poverty wages.

PDX workers returned to the Port of Portland Commission meeting in January to call on them to set a fair standard for wages and benefits at the airport. An airport-wide standard might be the last chance to prevent labor unrest at PDX this winter.

Stan Edwards

Stan Edwards

Stan Edwards, a PDX worker and elected representative of his coworkers in negotiations, shared the importance of a new wage policy with Commissioners: “We can’t wait another year for a raise. For me, that would mean another year of skipping doses of my asthma and diabetes medicine, or skipping meals. My coworkers and I need a raise now.”

During a 90-day period of negotiations this fall, PDX employees agreed to refrain from taking many major public actions, including participating in work stoppages, in the interest of reaching agreement for better wages and benefits. This period of “labor peace” ended January 12.

Barring action from the Port, PDX employers are unlikely offer any significant increases in compensation. Mr. Edwards explained: “It’s very clear. The airlines tell their contractors to keep costs low, which means keep our wages low. The only people who can break this logjam are you, Port Commissioners and staff. It’s up to you to raise standards and hold the airlines and contractors accountable for the poverty jobs they created.”

Mr. Edwards concluded by laying out the stakes: “We are in a desperate situation. We don’t want to go on strike, but I just don’t know how much longer we can hang on at $15 an hour.”

TAKE ACTION! Call Community Advisory Committee Chair Jeff Owen at 503-962-5854 to say you support an Airport Workers’ Bill of Rights!

PDX Falling Farther Behind: NY and SFO Step Forward

screen-shot-2021-01-25-at-10-18-26-pmAs the Port of Portland considers a modest improvement to wages at PDX, airports across the US continue to take action that is more powerful, bold, and matched to the gravity of the dual economic and public health crises afflicting the country. Workers at San Francisco International Airport and all New York area airports will now enjoy access to affordable, quality medical insurance.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Healthy Terminals Act on New Year’s Eve, requiring employers at New York city area airports to compensate workers $4.54 per hour toward the cost of affordable health insurance. The bill was dedicated to the memory of Leland Jordan, one of the first airport workers in New York to die from COVID-19, and a baggage handler at JFK airport.

The bill’s sponsor, NY Senator Alessandra Biaggi (D-Bronx) said, “This is a victory for all New Yorkers as we take an integral step to protect some of our most vulnerable workers in the wake of the global pandemic. Long before COVID, mostly Black, brown, and immigrant airport workers have served this state on the frontlines without access to the healthcare they need to keep themselves and their families safe.”

San Francisco city supervisors took an additional step forward in November, acknowledging the need for comprehensive family-centered solutions to inequality in our nation’s airports. Workers at SFO will receive full family health insurance at no cost to employees. Alternatively, employers may pay $9.50 per hour toward the cost of full family health insurance into a city program to provide health coverage in lieu of an employer-sponsored plan. (SFO employers must also pay at least $18.74 per hour in wages.)

In both San Francisco and New York, the health insurance programs are in addition to wage guarantees around $19 per hour, far above PDX standards.

In addition to three days of paid time off, PDX workers are asking the Port to adopt a baseline wage to end a race-to-the-bottom in subcontracting and to create a task force to determine the best way to guarantee PDX workers quality, affordable health care.

The Port of Portland likes to promote the customer service awards PDX has won, and to talk about equity. A closer look shows that as other airports accelerate their activity to repair inequality, the Port’s slow pace at advancing racial and economic justice keeps PDX frontline workers at the bottom of the pack.

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