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State lawmakers call on airport officials to raise wages

The departures lanes at Reagan National Airport (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

State lawmakers are calling on the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) to raise its minimum wage in order to attract more workers.

Twenty-four Virginia lawmakers, including several who represent parts of Arlington, sent a letter on Friday (Aug. 19) to MWAA President Jack Potter asking the airport authority, which manages and operates both Reagan National and Dulles International, to raise its minimum wage from its current $14.25 per hour.

While pay is scheduled to reach $15 next year per a 2019 agreement, that “will still be well below a living wage in the D.C. area.”

“We are concerned this compensation level is too low to attract and retain adequate staff, especially given the grueling work that wheelchair assistants, cabin cleaners, and baggage handlers do every day,” the letter reads.

It also called on MWAA to provide health benefits and paid sick leave to contracted airport workers, something that lawmakers and employees have been asking about for a number of years.

The letter was signed by local General Assembly members, including state Sens. Adam Ebbin and Barbara Favola, along with Dels. Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Patrick Hope and Alfonso Lopez — all Democrats.

“The Airports Authority thanks the lawmakers for their letter and will respond to them appropriately,” an MWAA spokesperson wrote to ARLnow in response to a request for comment.

Local 32BL SEIU, a union that represents more than 2,500 contracted regional airport workers, supports the call for higher wages.

This comes at the tail end of a summer that’s been filled with flight cancellations and delays even as more passengers return to flying near pre-pandemic levels.

The letter sent by the Virginia lawmakers argues that the lack of proper compensation, sick leave, and health care for airport workers have played a large part in the staffing shortages that are plaguing airlines. These shortages are, in turn, contributing to the problems with cancellations and delays.

Reagan National is currently the 21st worst airport in the world in terms of flight cancellations and delays, according to recent data. Over a two-month period from May 27 to July 31, 5% of flights were canceled while 28% were delayed.

The letter concludes by asking MWAA to move quickly on raising wages and providing sick leave.

“We ask that you take swift action to address these issues by raising the MWAA minimum wage and passing standards to ensure that all workers at Dulles and National can count on paid sick leave and quality, affordable health insurance plans,” it says.

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