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Fort Lauderdale Airport Workers Protest Again For A Living Wage

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Mark Stein
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WLRN
Fort Lauderdale airport employees and supporters protest for a living wage.

"Poverty wages don't fly," read the signs hoisted by protesters.

On Wednesday, airport workers gathered at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to demand a living wage. A local service employees union, 32BJ SEIU, organized the event.

 

Florida’s minimum wage is set at $8.05, but Broward County ordinances require a higher wage. The Broward County living wage ordinance is $11.68 for employees with benefits and $13.20 for those without, but it does not apply to contracted airport employees. Due to a legal loophole, employers are able to pay significantly lower wages to airport employees working as contractors.

 

This exception presents a major problem to many employees at the airport who cannot support their families with the low pay.

Almost a third of FLL employees reported a household income below $10,000 last year. Many of these workers lack benefits and sick days as well. Ninety-five percent of Fort Lauderdale airport employees said they have come into work sick.

 

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Credit LaGuardua Cross / Service Employee International Union Florida
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Service Employee International Union Florida
Sandra Smith, a wheelchair attendant at the airport, says that with a living wage she could afford an apartment.

Employees vented their discontent at Wednesday’s protest. Sandra Smith, who has worked as a wheelchair attendant for years, was one of them. Earning around $8 per hour without benefits, Smith cannot afford an apartment in Broward County. She said she feels dehumanized by the meager wages.

“These airports, they need to get a grip of themselves and know that we are not slaves,” Smith said. “We are human beings and we are workers.”

 

Newton Ingram of Pembroke Pines, who works at the curbside check-in for Southwest, echoed Smith’s sentiments. He has worked two jobs for eight years, waking up at 3:30 a.m. every day to start his first shift. At the airport, Ingram earns $5.05 per hour plus tips and does not receive benefits or sick days. Ingram and his wife care for both of their ailing mothers and their niece.

 

“What a living wage would mean to me is that I’d only have to work one job, and I’d be able to spend quality time with my family” said Ingram. “Between my wife and myself, we’re at our wit’s end trying to support on minimal money.”

 

The low pay of Fort Lauderdale airport employees is a stark contrast to the pay at Miami International Airport, where living-wage policies guarantee $12.46 per hour for employees with benefits and $14.27 for workers without benefits.

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Credit LaGuardua Cross / Service Employee International Union Florida
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Service Employee International Union Florida
Newton Ingram has worked at the airport for eight years. He says that with a living wage, he could work one job and spend more time with family.

Broward County officials say they are working to close this gap. The Broward County commission discussed the issue in May, and “asked for a study to determine the impact of expanding the living wage ordinance in order to better address any possible legal challenges.”

The Broward County commission says it will revisit the topic in August or September.

 

Reverend Gail Tapscott, Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Lauderdale, has spent the last few years fighting for a living wage alongside airport workers. She says change is long overdue.

 

“These people are not making enough to live on in Broward County,” Tapscott said. “I’m not making enough to live on in Broward County, you know, and I’m a professional with two master's degrees!”