Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) Chair Rick King today announced that a planned MAC board vote on a new minimum wage ordinance at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) will be delayed due to the economic and financial uncertainties arising from COVID-19.
Originally scheduled for April 2020, a MAC board vote on a draft ordinance that would phase in a $15 minimum wage for many workers at MSP by July 1, 2022 will now occur at a later date.
“We are not abandoning efforts to ensure employees at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport are paid competitive wages that attract a quality workforce,” King said. “The issue is timing. Right now, airport businesses are struggling due to the rapid decline in air travel demand in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. While we fully support the $15 minimum wage, we need to be careful about increasing costs to businesses at a time when revenues throughout the aviation industry are far below what anyone could have forecasted and might remain so for some time.”
The MAC was among the first entities in Minnesota to impose a minimum wage higher than the state minimum. In 2015, the MAC board began requiring that businesses that have 21 or more employees at MSP and hold a limited airside or commercial services license agreement from the MAC pay employees at least $1 an hour above the state minimum wage. Holders of such licenses generally perform services under contract to airlines. The policy also requires those businesses to provide paid leave for sickness or injury and that, should airlines change vendors, the new vendors generally must retain most existing employees for a period of time.
The draft minimum wage ordinance would cover a broad base of businesses at MSP whose services are key to airport operations and travelers’ experience.
“The MAC has a history of leading on minimum wage issues in Minnesota, and we will bring the draft minimum wage ordinance to a vote as soon as feasible,” King said.
Iris Altamirano, president of SEIU Local 26, the union of janitors and passenger service workers at MSP, said, "The frontline workers who make this airport run have been fighting for years to win a $15 minimum wage. We've seen the airport win numerous awards and airlines bring in record profits, yet many of the employees are forced to work two or three jobs to survive. We are disappointed in the need to delay this vote but understand the reality of what MSP Airport and our economy are facing. We look forward to continuing to work with Chair King and the whole MAC to pass a $15 minimum wage as soon as humanly possible."
In the seven days from March 12 to March 18 alone, the number of passengers screened at MSP security checkpoints declined by nearly 51 percent from the same period in 2019. On March 17 and March 18, passenger numbers were more than 70 percent below the same dates last year. King noted that the decline will likely continue for some time before stabilizing, and recovery of air travel demand could be a slow process.
“We’re in uncharted territory,” King said. “Demand will recover eventually, but right now the whole industry is in survival mode. I am pleased our union partners are understanding and supportive.”
Wade Luneburg, political director of UNITE HERE, the hospitality union in Minnesota, said, “While we’re not satisfied with the move, we understand the gravity of the situation and at this point we must move through this unprecedented time together, along with the Commission. However, our expectations remain the same on passing the $15 minimum wage sometime soon. Workers are part of what makes this industry successful, and this ‘new floor’ on wages was much needed before the COVID-19 disaster and will be even more critical in any recovery.”
“The aviation industry is struggling at the moment, but it will recover. When it does we’ll be ready to address the minimum wage issue for companies doing business at MSP” King said.