Higher minimum wage coming to Houston airport workers

Council Member Robert Gallegos and Mayor Sylvester Turner stand with Unite Here Local 23 members and Service Employees International Union members.

Council Member Robert Gallegos and Mayor Sylvester Turner stand with Unite Here Local 23 members and Service Employees International Union members.

Employees at George Bush Intercontinental, William P. Hobby and Ellington airports will see a boosted minimum wage following an executive order signed by Mayor Sylvester Turner on Oct. 9.

Some airport workers, such as cashiers, waiters, baristas and bag handlers, had been hired at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

Airport employees will now earn a minimum of $10.39 per hour for the remainder of 2019, $11.22 per hour in 2020 and $12 per hour in 2021.

A study conducted by Service Employees International Union Texas found that 43% of Bush Airport employees earn $7.25—or even less for tipped workers—and the average wage was $8.54 an hour.

Iris Thomas, a member of the airport employee union UNITE HERE Local 23 and a barista at Bush Airport, said many of her coworkers have been evicted from their homes or faced other financial troubles.

“For me and my coworkers, this will mean the difference between whether we are able to pay our rent on time or buy groceries for our family,” Thomas said. “Working at the airport for years, I’ve met many people whose accounts are either in the negative or they just can’t survive on what they make.”

Employees are contracted by airport vendors and airlines, not by the city of Houston, so their wages are not taxpayer-funded.

In determining the new minimum wage, Mayor Turner said he coordinated with the airlines and retailers represented at Houston’s airports “over several months.”

“No one who works for the city of Houston in any capacity should feel as if they don’t have dignity in their work, and part of ensuring dignity is paying employees a livable wage,” Turner said.

The minimum wage for city of Houston workers is $12 an hour, but that rate did not previously apply to airline employees and subcontractors at the airport.

Members of the Service Employees International Union of Texas and UNITE HERE Local 23 have long advocated for higher wages. Raising wages to $12 is the first step to the SEIU’s wage goal of $15 per hour, a release from the union stated.
By Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered public health, education and features for several Austin-area publications. A Boston native, she is a former student athlete and alumna of The University of Texas at Austin.