Brown, bullish on Murphy, is confident airport workers will get wage increase

Kevin Brown, the New Jersey state director of 32BJ Service Employees International Union. – Courtesy photo

Late last year, prominent local union head Kevin Brown was more than enthusiastic about Gov. Phil Murphy’s election. He anticipated that the governor could help resolve a more than four-year battle to improve the pay of local airport workers.

Now, the workers themselves, who were fed up enough to march en masse even after the governor’s election, feel that enthusiasm as well.

The board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey on March 22 approved a minimum wage increase proposal — setting it up for a final approval at the end of this month — that would affect thousands of airport workers. Murphy himself spoke at the board’s meeting.

Brown, who serves as New Jersey state director of the 32BJ Service Employees International Union, said it meant a lot for the workers, who cheered at Murphy’s words. And, according to Brown, it meant just as much for the governor.

“Chatting with the governor, he’s very proud of fact that he was able to help these workers,” Brown said. “He sees that and other things he’s done as a step toward making New Jersey a stronger state for all.”

The March vote arrived two months after more than 500 workers marched on Newark Liberty International Airport to demand higher wages. Advocates for the workers are now close to winning a $19-an-hour phased-in minimum wage increase.

“And this will really improve their lives,” Brown said. “They are extremely excited to be on a path to a real wage — over $38,000 a year. They’re very pleased.”

A wide range of jobs are covered under this plan, from those involved with ticketing, baggage handling and security at Newark airport to those doing the cleaning or food services.

Brown has urged more support for these workers because, among other reasons, they collectively ensure local airlines are able to operate safely and smoothly. Proponents don’t expect airlines to boost ticket prices in response to it, partly because many states already have this higher rate in place.

Airport workers across the Hudson had a $15 minimum wage law approved, but New Jersey’s own push for higher airport worker wages was stalled by former Gov. Chris Christie. The board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey applied the new wage increase plan to workers at John F. Kennedy International and La Guardia as well.

The minimum wage of workers at the region’s three airports will be set to $15.60 an hour by September of next year under the plan, which will be voted on a final time on June 28. Brown doesn’t have any expectation of that final vote reversing the new policy.

Murphy, who had made campaign vows to raise wages for all workers, has included in his recently proposed budget a four-year phase-in of a statewide $15 minimum wage.

Brown hopes to score that as another victory; he’s also enthusiastic about the benefits he expects for his members under the state’s new paid sick leave program, which was recently signed into law by the governor.

“In our view, Murphy is doing a good job enacting the agenda he ran on,” Brown said.