Bill Would Force PHL Subcontractors To Pay City's 'Living Wage'

June 12--The city Law Department says the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter does not allow City Council to enforce minimum "living wage" requirements on Philadelphia International Airport subcontractors -- only on businesses with direct city contracts.

Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr. said Tuesday he would introduce a charter-change amendment in Council on Thursday to clarify and extend the city's wage and benefits standard to employees of city subcontractors.

The provision would enable Council to "require those who contract with the city or are recipients of city financial assistance to pass along the requirements of such an ordinance to subcontractors (at any tier) and subrecipients (at any tier)," according to the resolution Goode will propose.

If 12 Council members approve the ordinance and the mayor approves it, it would be a ballot question left to Philadelphia voters in the November election or the May 2014 primary. If the mayor were to veto it, 12 Council votes would override the veto, Goode said.

"I don't expect a problem getting the necessary 12 votes," Goode said. Council members Blondell Reynolds Brown and Maria Quinones Sanchez will cosponsor the bill, he said.

The National Employment Law Project released a report Tuesday detailing the financial plight of 2,000 workers employed by subcontractors at Philadelphia airport who earn less than $16,000 a year.

The city's living-wage standard, implemented in 2007, is $10.88 an hour, paid sick days, and health benefits.

Many Philadelphia airport workers are covered by union contracts, but some in service jobs -- wheelchair attendants, skycaps, aircraft cleaners, and baggage handlers -- work for low-bid contractors hired by the airlines.

Workplace-rights advocates and an interfaith clergy group asked Council's transportation committee to amend the city's lease with US Airways to include wage and benefits protections. The committee declined to do so.

On May 13, Goode received a memorandum from City Solicitor Shelley Smith stating that City Council did not have the power under the charter to enforce the minimum wage and benefits standard on city subcontractors.

Other airports have wage and benefits standards, including Miami; Los Angeles; San Francisco; San Jose, Calif.; Oakland, Calif.; St. Louis; Hartford, Conn.; and Syracuse, N.Y., the Law Project study noted.

The survey of 200 Philadelphia airport contract workers found that 86 percent were African American, 97 percent received no paid sick days, and 65 percent had no health insurance. The median hourly wage was $7.85, including tips.

Onetha McKnight, of Southwest Philadelphia, earns $7 an hour as a wheelchair attendant at the airport. Some days she receives only $1 in tips. Her employer is PrimeFlight Aviation Services, of Nashville.

"I find it difficult to make ends meet on the poverty wages," McKnight said at a news conference. "I have one son and five grandchildren. I don't always have enough at the end of the month to pay my bills. I don't have any health insurance, and I have asthma and high blood pressure. I work hard, but I cannot afford basic medication."

Contact Linda Loyd at 215-854-2831

or lloyd@phillynews.com.

Copyright 2013 - The Philadelphia Inquirer

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