PHL airport workers want same minimum wage increase as New York City

Minimum Wage Hearing Philadelphia City Council Supporters of the legislation, which would extend the minimum wage ordinance to subcontractors such as those at the Philadelphia International Airport, packed Council chambers during a committee hearing last week.
Credit: Charles Mostoller / Metro

Even though a referendum asking voters to raise the minimum wage will be on the May 20 ballot, airport workers are continuing to call on the city and residents to push the increase forward for one big reason: so they can make a living wage.

On Friday morning, airport workers will once again rally at the Philadelphia International Airport to continue to spread their message. One of those workers is 29-year-old Sarina Santos, who works full-time as an airport baggage handler. Even though her husband works a good-paying job, she said the couple struggles to pay their bills and raise four kids.

“It doesn’t work at all,” Santos said of the arrangement. “We don’t have any extra money. We can’t do what a normal family would do.”

Santos, who has been an airport subcontractor since December, makes $7.25 per hour and admits it hurts when her children, even at the ages of 5, 7, 9 and 13, say they want to go to college.

“How will my husband and I save enough money for all four?” asked Santos, who added she and her husband live paycheck to paycheck.

She calls her pay a “chump check” and it helps to pay their mortgage, utility and car bills.It’s no way to live said Daisy Cruz, mid-Atlantic district director for 32BJ SEIU.

“It’s too important to the workers,” Cruz said. “Too many people live in poverty here in the city of Philadelphia.”

The referendum calls for the minimum wage to increase to all city subcontractors to $10.88. The groups Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild lobbied City Council to put the referendum on the ballot.

Cruz and Santos are confident it will pass.

“For all the work I do,” Santos said, “I think I should be getting more money. It’s hard and it’s a part of life. But it’s not the life I want to live.”