Dozens of concessions, security and other contracted workers at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport protested on Thursday for Broward County to raise its living wage to equal that of Miami-Dade County.
Chanting and holding signs that read, “Pay us right,” in front of the airport's terminals, the employees said Broward’s living wage has not kept up with the cost of residing in the county.
Many workers live near or below the poverty line, and they want the living wage to be at least a dollar more.
“It’s time to respond to the needs of all Broward County voters,” said Helene O’Brien, the director of the Florida chapter of the Service International Employees Union, 32BJ SEIU. “Our workers are being treated like second-class citizens by this policy.”
Broward’s living wage covers thousands of contracted county employees, including those at the airport and Port Everglades. The wage starts at $12.38 per hour if workers receive health benefits and rises to $13.98 an hour if they do not.
Miami-Dade’s, by comparison, is $12.99 per hour and $16.15 without health insurance. The county has raised its living wage to keep up with inflation.
The Broward County Commission will discuss a proposal to do the same at its next meeting on Tuesday. But although some commissioners have indicated they support a living wage increase, past consideration of the issue has resulted in no policy changes.
32BJ SEIU says that has left employees across the county struggling to pay everyday bills. According to a report in August by the Fort Lauderdale Airport Coalition, nearly half of all contracted and subcontracted employees at the airport live at or below the poverty line.
Workers also say the current living wage ordinance does not require companies to spend enough on their employees’ health insurance. Many airline and security contractors, for example, offer plans with “sky high deductibles” and costly premiums and copayments, 32BJ SEIU says.
“I can’t take the insurance. I don’t have enough money,” said Jacqueline Williams, who works in airport security and was among the protestors marching and chanting on Thursday. She noted that she provides for her 15-year-old son and has to work a second job as a janitor for Broward County Public Schools.
The workers want Broward to force contractors to pay the same amount of health insurance that the county pays for its own workers—$3.44 per hour. The current requirement is $1.60 an hour.
Better healthcare coverage along with a one dollar increase in Broward's living wage would make a signficant difference, protestors said.
Ernst Saintil cleans the airport’s windows and floors. He said the current policy is unfair and doesn't think the county values him.
Nobody else would do “the kind of work that we do,” he said at the protest. “They wouldn’t even last a week.”