Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Improving Pay and Benefits for Airport Workers Would Help Stabilize the Industry
Press Release

RELEASE: Improving Pay and Benefits for Airport Workers Would Help Stabilize the Industry

Washington, D.C. — Airport service workers are severely underpaid and receive insufficient benefits, causing high turnover among employees that can reduce airport safety and security and lead to travel slowdowns, a new Center for American Progress report finds.

The nation’s airport service workers—including cleaners, wheelchair agents, baggage handlers, ticketing agents, caterers, concessions workers, passenger service agents, and lounge workers—play a vital role in ensuring that passengers reach their flights on time. They are relied on to be part of the response to emergencies such as extreme weather and active shooter situations. Major airports receive billions of dollars every year in federal funding, but employers of airport service workers—who are often disproportionately Black and Latino—are not considered to be government contractors. As a result, large portions of these workers earn hourly wages below the 2023 contractor minimum wage.

In the report, Karla Walter and Aurelia Glass argue that conditions can and must be improved, and that wage and benefits provisions should be attached to federal funding for airports. While certain states and cities, such as New York, San Francisco, and Atlanta, have individually raised standards for workers at their airports, this patchwork approach is poorly suited to the United States’ interconnected airline system. The report argues that introducing a federal wage standard for airport service workers “would help create consistency across the sector.”

Congress will have a chance to help the nation’s airlines run more efficiently by supporting workers when Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Chuy García (D-IL) reintroduce the Good Jobs for Good Airports Act to establish pay, benefits, and labor standards for airport service workers—including cleaners, wheelchair agents, baggage handlers, concessionaires, and security personnel. Strong, federally mandated floors would help uphold equity and fair standards across the country; ensure that the government stands by its commitment to not subsidize poverty wages; and increase safety and efficiency across the national aviation system by supporting a well-qualified workforce. Major airport service workers unions—SEIU, CWA, and UNITE HERE—are advocating for the legislation.

“Airport service workers across the country are winning respect on the job through state and local wage standards. It is now time for the federal government to take a leading role,” said Walter, senior director of employment policy at CAP and co-author of the report. “By attaching job quality standards to the billions of dollars the federal government spends every year on airports, policymakers can help make sure that all airport service workers are fairly compensated, which will support a well-qualified workforce and help ensure safe and efficient travel for all Americans.”

Read the report: “Airport Service Workers Deserve Good Jobs” by Karla Walter and Aurelia Glass, additionally airport workers are also available for comment on the importance of federal action to raise standards. 

For more information or to speak to an expert, contact Sarah Nadeau at [email protected].

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.