By MICHAEL GARETH JOHNSON
This past week, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced a historic raise to $19 an hour over the next five years for nearly 40,000 low-wage workers at the airports they operate: JFK International, LaGuardia and Newark. The salary increase was approved by the Port Authority’s board of directors, comprising representatives mostly appointed by governors from both New York and New Jersey.
For years, 32BJ SEIU, the union that represents the workers, has fought for higher wages. In New York State, they led the way in the push for a statewide $15 minimum wage—which will go into effect in New York City starting in 2019. Union President Héctor Figueroa thanked his members when the news was announced.
“This is unprecedented and it’s your doing,” Figueroa told a boisterous crowd. “You fought for and won your union but you didn’t stop there. You won the fight for $15 in New York but knew the battle is only half won if your brothers and sisters at New Jersey’s airports have not tasted that victory. It is that persistence that is now helping all of you build a foundation in the middle class.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who rarely leaves the state, made a special trip to New Jersey for the Port Authority board meeting vote. The majority of board members are appointed by Cuomo and have often proven to be loyal to him. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, also a Democrat, appoints the other half of the board.
Following the board meeting, Cuomo, who is running for a third term as governor, took the opportunity to continue his relentless attacks on President Trump, while praising the Port Authority.
“The President of the United States right now promises to rebuild this nation’s crumbling infrastructure. We’ve had many words and we’ve had little action. The current president promised during the campaign a $1.5-trillion infrastructure program. That just disappeared. And Lord knows we need it. The Port Authority is actually doing it,” Cuomo said. “Your recent accomplishments have breathed new life into the mission of the port: the new Goethals and Bayonne bridges; the new terminal at LaGuardia and JFK; the new terminal at Newark Airport—you are making a real difference. It is amazing to me still that LaGuardia Airport will be the first new airport in this nation in 25 years.”
Cuomo continued arguing that increasing wages is the surest way to provide workers with economic security, making the point that this is the best way to bridge the current political divide in the country.
“Invest in your most important asset, which is your workforce,” Cuomo said. “Fairness, diligence, good business practices all bring one to the same obvious conclusion: Invest in the workforce; raise the minimum wage to $19 over five years. It is the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do.”