Monday, April 13, 2015

Philly Airport Worker: Low Wages Making a Decent Life All But Impossible

Dan Heyman, Public News Service (PA)

PHOTO: Some Philadelphia airport workers are protesting their employers' failure to meet the $12 per hour wage standard set by the city council. Photograph by Matt Stanley Photo.
PHOTO: Some Philadelphia airport workers are protesting their employers' failure to meet the $12 per hour wage standard set by the city council. Photograph by Matt Stanley Photo.
HARRISBURG, Pa. – One of the Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) workers fighting for $12 an hour says his current minimum wage pay is keeping him from having a decent life.

Philadelphia’s mayor signed an executive order saying PHL workers should make $12 an hour, but some private contractors are still paying a lot less.

Hasson Benson has been a baggage handler for PrimeFlight for more than a year. The 21-year-old lives with his mother and sister, who he helps to support.

"Pay us $7.25 as if we were high school kids with summer jobs, not realizing that some of us are grown with two to three kids,” he says. “I don't understand."

Several hundred of the contractors' employees staged a symbolic one-day strike April 2. PrimeFlight has been largely silent on the issue, but another contractor announced plans to raise wages to the level set by the city.

The Service Employees International Union says it is bringing pressure through the city government and through the airlines that hire the contractors.

Last fall, after five of its employees received an award for good service, PrimeFlight released a statement saying how proud it was, stating, in part, "customer service is important in any business, but it takes on even greater significance at a major airport."

But Benson says the company doesn't offer any benefits worth having. He says the company doesn’t supply the equipment that employees need, such as gloves or kneepads. And he says the low wages make it tough for employees like him trying to work their way through college.

"If we get the $12, it would just feel like the weight is lifted off of my shoulders because I could provide more,” he explains. “I know I would be at school knowing, 'OK I've got enough money and I don't have to worry about while I'm doing my work.'"

Benson says poor wages are part of the reason he hasn't gotten married, moved into his own place and started a family. He's studying allied health at a community college, but he says minimum wage is a real threat to those career plans.

"Being in school and working, it's already hard enough,” he stresses. “It's always so much on my mind I think about dropping out all the time. But I know I have a family to take care of, so I got to push myself."

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