ORLANDO, Fla. – Orlando International Airport workers who say they earn as little as $5.23 per hour held a rally on Wednesday to demand higher wages.
Several politicians, community leaders and activists will rally alongside wheelchair attendants, security agents, baggage handlers, and other airport workers as they ask the Greater Orlando Airport Authority to raise wages to at least $15 per hour.
“I’ve worked at the airport for over a decade,” said Emmanuel Hunt, a wheelchair attendant for BAGS, an airline subcontractor. “When I started, I was earning $5.23 an hour, 10 years later I’m still earning $5.23 an hour. This is no way to live. Every year, the cost of food, gas, and rents go up. How is it possible that a decade later I’m still earning the same?”
Walt Disney World union employees will also be showing support on Wednesday, just two weeks after they voted to approve a historic new contract that includes raising cast member positions to $15 per hour over the next three years.
Carlos Batista works as a wheelchair attendant and said many of his customers don't realize his job relies on tips. He hopes the new Disney deal will change his pay structure.
"It got me hope," he said. "It got me hope. I feel we're going to win and get $15."
As part of the rally, which is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency at Orlando International Airport, workers and allies will also present a report by Service Employees International Union that shows that of the surveyed OIA employees, 78 percent earn less than $20,000 a year, 92 percent do not have paid sick leave, 19 percent must rely on food stamps and 45 percent struggle to pay for housing. Click here to read that study.
GOAA officials said they have received that report and plan to conduct their own independent review, which will be presented at a board meeting on Oct. 10.
"Wages at Orlando International Airport are an important issue, particularly in the highly competitive job market in Central Florida – and we take this matter seriously. We will continue to engage with all stakeholders and are committed to providing the best possible experience for the traveling public," GOAA CEO Phil Brown said in a news release.
More than 21,000 people work at OIA with 850 of them working directly for GOAA while the others work for 200-plus private sector or federal organizations, officials said. Brown said all personnel employed by GOAA earn the mandated federal minimum wage or higher.
Candidate for Lt. Gov. Chris King, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, State Sen. Vic Torres and State Rep. Amy Mercado are slated to be in attendance in support of airport workers.
King said he and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum stand in solidarity with workers fighting for changes.
“Airport workers in Orlando face steep challenges like long hours and low pay and they shouldn't be in this fight alone. Large economic engines like airports set the standard for how other workers are treated. MCO should be home to good, union jobs that pay family-sustaining wages and serve as an example for employers everywhere,” King said.
GOAA chairman Frank Kruppenbacher said during a news conference Wednesday that there were some problems with the SEIU report.
"I specifically asked after reviewing it that we have it independently looked at since there are some issues with the report that was given to us," he said.