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Photo: Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson Twitter
Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson rallied with a number of airport worker unions ahead of introducing the bill. Photo: Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson Twitter

New Philly City Council bill seeks affordable health insurance and paid sick leave for airport workers

If passed, Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson’s PHL Prevailing Wage Bill would build upon measures previously passed by colleagues.

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On Thursday, May 6, Philadelphia City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson introduced legislation that would ensure necessary benefits like family-sustaining wages, affordable health insurance, and paid sick leave to contracted workers at Philadelphia International Airport, also known as PHL.

The measure, entitled The PHL Prevailing Wage Bill, aims to offer a specific classification of PHL workers a wage of up to $15.06 per hour, an added $4.54 hourly wage supplement to obtain health coverage, and up to 56 hours of paid sick leave each year, among other benefits.

During a visit to PHL, alongside members of the 32BJ union and Unite Here Philly, Councilmember Johnson, whose district includes the airport, announced his solidarity with the unions of PHL.

“The rights of workers need to be respected,” Johnson said. 

He then explained that his colleagues have previously passed legislation that he sponsored ensuring that PHL workers make a living wage, and that this new bill seeks to ensure that they also have “meaningful access to health benefits.”

“The workers who make the Airport one of the biggest and most profitable airports in the country shouldn’t have to worry that they could be bankrupted at any time by an illness or injury,” Johnson said. 

The councilmember also expressed a great deal of confidence that the City Council will approve the ordinance and that it will become law very soon. 

The PHL Prevailing Wage Bill would cover a wide range of airport workers including baggage and freight handlers and inspectors, cabin cleaners, passenger service agents, skycaps, wheelchair attendants, retail, food and beverage service workers, and food preparation workers.

The bill is also sponsored by Council President Darrell Clarke and Councilmembers Mark Squilla, Jamie Gauthier, Maria Quiñones Sánchez, Kendra Brooks, Helen Gym and more. 

If the bill is approved by City Council and signed into law by Mayor Jim Kenney, it would raise airport workers’ wages, create health insurance for airport contractors equivalent to the standard required under the federal Service Contract Act, and create a paid leave standard, providing a minimum of 10 paid holidays per year, and a paid vacation schedule. 

Gabe Morgan, Vice President and State Director of 32BJ SEIU, said that until the city took action, PHL workers made the federal minimum wage or less. 

“We know that without action on the part of the City, the airlines and their subcontracted employers would not willingly protect essential frontline workers by offering them better wages, healthcare or paid sick leave,” Morgan said. 

32BJ SEIU is the largest property services workers union in the country, and it represents over 2,500 workers at the Philadelphia International Airport. 

According to 32BJ SEIU, contracted frontline PHL workers, who are overwhelmingly Black, are paid as low as $12.40 an hour and often don’t have health insurance. 

They have difficulty social distancing from the traveling public and had to work even with the risk of exposure to COVID-19. 

A recent study showed that as residents of one of the nation’s poorest cities, essential workers in Philadelphia were 55% more likely to contract coronavirus than any other workers in the city. 

Rosslyn Wuchinich, Local 274 President of UNITE HERE, explained that airport workers have been putting their lives on the line throughout the pandemic so that people could travel. 

UNITE HERE is the largest hospitality and food service workers union in the country, with over 300,000 members. It represents about 1,200 PHL airline catering and airport concessions workers.

If the PHL Prevailing Wage Bill becomes law, it would cover all SEIU 32BJ and UNITE HERE workers.

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