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Fort Lauderdale Airport Workers Pass First Step To Get A Higher Living Wage

two women wearing airport workers rise t shirts
Caitie Switalski
Sandra Smith, left, and Esmerelda Ariza came to Tuesday's Broward County Commission meeting to ask for a higher living wage.

Broward County commissioners took the first step Tuesday toward raising the county’s living wage after the union representing airport workers testified at Tuesday’s commission meeting. 

There’s a pay gap between how Broward and Miami-Dade counties handle pay for subcontracted employees. 

Ana Tinsly works in communications for the Service Employees International Union, 32BJ SEIU. She said Broward needs to play catch-up. 

“Today we’re saying, ‘Fix the living wage issue.’ Miami-Dade County has done a much better job at indexing for inflation, so annually the wages have gone up,” Tinsly said.

The living wage in Broward County is currently $12.03 an hour, or $13.59 if an employee doesn’t select a health insurance plan from his or her company.

But in Miami-Dade County, the living wage is higher. It starts at $12.99 per hour and it goes up to $16.15 an hour if no health insurance plan is selected. 

Esparanza Ariza works as a security agent at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. She said that even with two extra part-time jobs, she’s living paycheck to paycheck. 

“How [do] we keep supporting our parents, and ... who’s gonna support me when I get that age?” Ariza said.

The commission on Tuesday approved the motion to allow the county attorney to look over and prepare policy on the living-wage ordinance. 

Commissioner Nan Rich sponsored the motion.

"I do believe, strongly, that we haven't kept up," she said.

One suggestion, from Commissioner Mark Bogen, was to examine the possibility of splitting the ordinance between airport workers and all other industries that use the living wage. According to public comment at the meeting, airport workers face higher security risks, for example during January’s Fort Lauderdale airport mass shooting.

If anyone would know what that’s like, it’s Medjhie Bissainthe. She works at the Fort Lauderdale airport with baggage. She was working the day of the shooting  and she said she needs training to know where to go and what to do in case there’s another similar incident. 

“That day I was very scared and I was panicked, and it wasn’t an easy experience,” Bissainthe said. 

Part of 32BJ SEIU’s Safe Airports policy initiative includes getting paid training for airport workers in place. Tinsly said the union will be back to the Broward Commission chambers to testify for those training programs at another meeting.

This post has been updated.