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Report Points to Poverty Problem Among Philly Airport Workers

June 11, 2013

PHILADELPHIA - As planeloads of passengers fly into and out of Philadelphia International Airport, behind the scenes there, according to a new report, low-wage jobs are clipping the wings of thousands of workers who barely make enough to survive. The report from the National Employment Law Project looked at subcontracted jobs at the airport and found that the average pay amounts to less than $16,000 a year.

NELP Legal Co-Director Paul Sonn said that sets up a ripple effect, starting with the places those workers call home.

"We looked at the neighborhoods where the airport workers live and found that they are very concentrated in high-poverty neighborhoods," Sonn declared. "The low pay at the airport is effectively driving up poverty in these neighborhoods, and it's also hurting local businesses."

Cheryl Henderson is an airport baggage handler who said, put simply, that she's not making enough to live on.

"I make $7.25 an hour," she said. "The work gets strenuous. If I'm by myself I'm lifting 1,400 bags. I'm living paycheck to paycheck."

Henderson, who lives with her son and daughter-in-law in their home, said earning a wage just under $11 an hour would make a big difference, helping her pay her bills and afford her own apartment, something she can't do now.

Paul Sonn said a solution to the poverty problem at Philadelphia International is one already being practiced at other airports across the country.

"Los Angeles, St. Louis, Miami, Hartford, and others have, many years ago, adopted wage and quality standards for all workers at the airport, including subcontracted workers, that set a basic floor and make sure that the airport's not running off high-turnover, high-poverty, rock-bottom jobs."

Sonn said the study also revealed that one in five airport workers they talked to reported going hungry last year and more than eight in ten are African-American. The situation also affects public safety and security, since those employees say they receive very little training and that high turnover is the norm in those jobs.

Tom Joseph, Public News Service - PA