United Airlines filed a formal comment on a rule by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey requiring raises for low-paid airport workers. United said its vendors were contractually obligated to follow legally adopted airport rules. (Ed Murray/The Star-Ledger )
By Steve Strunsky I The Star-Ledger on July 14, 2014 at 6:30 AM, updated July 14, 2014 at 6:41 AM
“All of United’s contracts typically stipulate that its vendors must abide by applicable local, state and federal laws and regulations.”
NEWARK — With raises at stake for 3,700 low-paid cabin cleaners, baggage handlers and other airport workers in Newark, United Airlines acknowledged that its contractors are typically bound to follow local laws or rules governing the airports where they work.
United’s acknowledgement that contractual relationships did not stand in the way of the raises was contained in a formal comment on an airport minimum wage policy adopted by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in April and published last month. As of July 31, the rule calls for $1-per-hour raises for airport workers earning $9 an hour or less before a Feb. 1 start date for a $10.10-an-hour minimum, followed by annual increments pegged to the consumer price index.
“As to the wage policy of our vendors, all of United’s contracts typically stipulate that its vendors must abide by applicable local, state and federal laws and regulations,” United stated in a filing on Friday during a 30-day public comment period that began with the rule’s June 13 publication. “If the Policy becomes effective, and assuming it is validly issued, the vendors would be required to comply with the Policy or they would be in violation of their contracts with us.”
United also said nearly all of its direct employees in the kinds of jobs covered by the wage policy already earn more than its required minimums, and that the few employees not covered by the policy would be brought up to its wage levels.
The filing hinted that United would end up eating the cost of the wage hikes, not its vendors. It also urged the Port Authority not to give itself a raise by applying the same formula to the additional salary figures it uses to calculate fees charged to vendors that contract with carriers at its airports.
“We estimate that the Port Authority would earn about $300,000 annually in increased Fees as a result of the approximately $12 million United would pay annually in higher costs as a result of the Policy,” the filing stated. “We suggest that the Port Authority, at a minimum, should waive the increased Fees resulting from the Policy.”
A United spokesman, Rahsaan Johnson, declined to elaborate on the filing.
While United said it continued to “question the Port Authority’s power to impose these requirements pursuant to its enabling bi-state compact,” the filing was cautiously interpreted by proponents of the wage policy as the first sign that Newark’s dominant carrier would not oppose the raises.
“United abiding by this directive is a first step, not a final one,” Kevin Brown, district director of Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, said in a statement yesterday. “They must follow the Port’s directive and implement a long term plan that turns these poverty jobs into good jobs with living wages and health care that can create a path from poverty jobs into middle class jobs.”
A Port Authority spokesman declined to comment on United’s filing.
P.A. Executive Director Patrick Foye, an appointee of Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, announced the wage rule in January for John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia airports in New York. Newark was added following protests by labor groups, including Local 32BJ, which is in the midst of a drive to organize nonunion workers at Newark Liberty into bargaining units.
Large carriers at the Port Authority’s New York airports, including American and Delta Airlines, have embraced the wage increase ahead of its effective date, and proponents say workers there have already gotten raises.
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