Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport Workers Getting a Livable-Wage Raise

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport Workers Getting a Livable-Wage Raise
Photo by La Guardia Cross

After multiple rallies and hard-fought protests, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport workers are finally going to be getting a raise when the Broward County Commission votes on extending the living-wage ordinance to contracted airline workers today.

This means that more than 1,700 wheelchair attendants, lobby agents, checkpoint workers, security officers, canon cleaners, and other airport service workers will begin earning more than $8.35 an hour, the average meager wage many have been earning. The ordinance sets wages at $11.68 with qualifying health benefits and $13.20 without.

Back in May, Broward County commissioners introduced a bill to extend the county's living-wage ordinance to include more than 1,200 passenger service workers at the airport who earn an average of $8.14 per hour, which is significantly below the federal poverty line. In September, the commissioners voted unanimously in favor of extending the living wage to the airport workers. Today's vote will be held at 2 pm.

“This victory belongs to all the airport workers who stood firm through rallies and protests and demanded to be paid a fair wage,” said Helene O’Brien, Florida state director for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 32BJ. "But as we take a moment to thank the commission and savor this win, we know that ultimately we cannot rely solely on public policies to make airport jobs good jobs again."

Union members, O'Brien points out, earn more and have better benefits than nonunionized workers. Organizing collectively is what built the middle class.

"Moving forward, we will continue to fight for truly affordable health insurance, full-time employment, and paid sick leave," O'Brien adds. "We will continue to demand that workers are ensured their right to collectively organize for better working conditions. This is how we expand economic growth and rebuild the middle class. We need a living wage and union rights.”

Closing the living-wage loophole could inject an estimated $14 million per year into Broward's economy, according to the SEIU.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport Workers Getting a Livable-Wage RaiseEXPAND
Photo by La Guardia Cross

The SEIU has pointed out that as airlines make record-breaking profits and take advantage of FLL's cheap costs — one of the lowest in the nation —  Broward taxpayers have paid airlines an indirect subsidy because their poverty wages leave workers reliant on public assistance.

But the past two years has seen workers at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International organize and rally for higher wages and benefits.

According to the SEIU, Florida ranks fourth in income inequality and has a low-wage workforce that is largely made up of immigrants and people of color. But, the group says, the workers love their jobs and love serving customers who come to the airport. They just want what's fair. 

“I love what I'm doing because I get to help all types of people, especially the elderly passengers," says GueldereGuerillis, a wheelchair attendant and skycap at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood. "Sometimes they tell me, ‘If it wasn’t for you, I don’t know how I could do it.’ Unfortunately, I can barely survive on what I earn. I work around the clock and don’t sleep because I’m always worried about being evicted or if my electricity will be shut off."

Guerillis, who works two jobs in which he is paid $8.25 and $5, plus often-meager tips, to sustain his wife and three children, whom he rarely sees, added, "A living wage will finally give me peace of mind and let me spend more time with my family.”

The SEIU plans to hold a victory celebration today at 1 p.m. at the Broward County Government Building, located at 115 S. Andrews Ave. in Fort Lauderdale. The coalition of workers, community supporters, SEIU Local 32BJ, and SEIU Florida are also set to announce the next phase of their campaign, which is to guarantee access to health insurance, paid sick days, and a statewide $15 minimum wage.

"Corporations didn’t just decide to end child labor, give us the eight-hour workday, or create safer working conditions," O'Brien says. "These victories were hard-fought battles that we won by standing together and demanding justice in the workplace."  

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