Report: Raising Airport Workers’ Wages Increases Air Travel Safety

By Sahid Fawaz

According to a new study, we all benefit as air travelers when workers get paid more.

Newsweek reports:

“The Los Angeles City Council has voted unanimously to raise wages for 10,000 LAX workers and require fully-paid emergency response training to protect travelers at the nations’ second busiest airport.

Airport workers at LAX will be paid a minimum of $17 an hour by 2021 and will continue to be paid at least $2 above the city’s minimum wage.

The City Council and union airport workers should be commended for this bold action, which will begin to reverse a decades-long trend of declining real wages at U.S. airports. Other cities should act now and follow their lead.

A new report by the UC Berkeley Labor Center and the San Francisco International Airport finds that improving wages at U.S. airports is not only an issue for workers’ livelihoods, it is vital for the safety and security of the flying public.

Between 2002 and 2012, average real wages for U.S. airport workers fell by 15 percent. Wages of baggage handlers fell by almost half, from over $19 an hour to $10.60—as the share of those jobs outsourced to contract companies more than tripled, reaching 84 percent of all baggage handlers.

Nationally, more than one-third of cleaning and baggage workers at U.S. airports live in or near poverty, and a similar share of their families rely on one or more public benefits like food stamps and Medicaid to make ends meet.

The relationship between low-wages and worker turnover is well documented, and there is growing evidence of a connection between workers with less experience on the job and the negative impact on safety and security.

When wages are low, workers seek out other employment for even a small increase in pay. A study by the Seattle-Tacoma Airport found that workers were not staying on the job long enough to achieve “mastery” in their positions—with deleterious effects on safety, security and efficiency.

The same report found that newer workers were nearly 80 percent more likely to receive citations for security violations than those who had spent more time on the job.

These problems are well known within the industry. A 2004 Airport Safety Panel report concluded that ‘ill-trained and poorly paid workers are a potential lethal hazard with enormously expensive consequences,” and that “low-salaries fail to attract experienced workers and contribute to high turnover.’

A 2007 report by the Government Accountability Organization pointed to low-wages and high turnover for ramp and fuel workers as a major factor in ramp accidents.

This connection between low wages and threats to public safety are nothing new. Similar effects have been documented in a range of professions, from trucking—where pay and tenure are strong predictors of crash rates—to food safety in the food service industries and quality of care and patient outcomes in nursing homes.”

For the story, check out the full piece at Newsweek here.

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