Booker: It's un-American for full-time workers to live in poverty

NEWARK -- Flanked by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and leading state Democrats, airport workers on Friday continued their fight for higher pay demanding the right to a living wage. 

"I can't survive on poverty wages," said Daquan Allen, a cabin cleaner at Newark International Airport, who makes $10.20 an hour. 

"It's difficult to afford the basics, like food, rent," added Zakiyy Medina, a security guard at the airport.

Booker (D-N.J.) said it was an injustice that full-time workers could not afford to live in New Jersey and promised to work at the federal level to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

"It is un-American to be in this country, to work a full-time job and still live in poverty. That is unacceptable," he said. "The minimum wage working at a lot of these contract companies only affords them about $22,000 a year ... You cannot live and raise a family on $22,000 a year. You can't afford housing, you can't afford child care and since your company isn't helping you with retirement, you can't save for retirement."

State Sens. Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) have co-sponsored a bill, the Safe Transportation Jobs and Fair Employment Rules or STAFER Act, that would require better pay and benefits for subcontracted airport, rail and ferry workers.

"We are attacking this effort from every front," Ruiz said Friday. "But the truth of the matter still remains the same, Port Authority can step up and can do better." 

Newark Deputy Mayor Rahaman Muhammad said workers had been waiting for living wages for too long and urged the Port Authority and the airline companies to raise workers' pay now. 

"You can decide to give them a living wage today, let's do it now," he said as he led chants of "do it now."

"It's their property. Any vendor on their property, (they) could tell them what to do," added Kevin Brown, vice president of the local union 32BJ SEIU. He said after pressure from the union, the Port Authority agreed in 2014 to require all workers receive $10.20 an hour -- above minimum wage. But last year they declined to increase pay to $15 an hour

Brown said Ruiz's proposed bill would boost wages from $10.20 to $17.98 an hour for about 10,000 subcontracted workers at Newark airport, Newark Penn Station and the Hoboken terminal. It would also require airline contractors to pay $4.27 an hour for worker health benefits and offer holidays and vacations. 

"This is not going to be an easy fight," said Booker before he was swarmed with requests from airport workers wanting pictures. "We are going to win this fight no matter how long it takes. I am committed to fighting with the workers."

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