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MSP readies plan to boost worker pay

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Airport protesters
Protesters blocked the terminal access road at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport on Dec. 5, 2014. They were calling for higher wages for low-paid airport employees.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

The Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is poised to set a new minimum wage, $1 above the state wage floor, effective in August.

That's the recommendation going before the Metropolitan Airports Commission, published in advance of a regular meeting at the airport scheduled for Monday. 

The new regulation would be implemented through new contract conditions between the MAC and vendors that are licensed to provide services to travelers and airlines at MSP.

It will mean at least a $10 minimum hourly wage this year for thousands of airport workers, which Gov. Mark Dayton said he supported back in March.

"At this time, I just don't believe there are votes on the commission to go any further," MAC chair Dan Boivin said in an interview with MPR News Tuesday.

The new recommendation for the airport stops short of an ordinance to set a minimum wage. 

That would require a lengthy public comment and approval process. The ordinance idea also drew fire from Airlines for America, the airline trade group.

Airport officials estimate the new minimum wage could affect 2,800 employees.

"These workers include aircraft cleaners, wheelchair pushers and electric cart drivers who provide service to MSP passengers and businesses where quality job performance is necessary to maintain MSP's reputation as one of the finest large hub airports in North America," Hamiel wrote in a memo recommending the change. 

The new minimum wage would not apply to workers who already have union contracts with their airport employers, he added. It also doesn't cover employees who work directly for the airport, as they generally make more than $10 an hour already.

The raise requirement is aimed at companies described as "Limited Airside and Commercial Servicers License Agreement holders with 21 or more employees," Hamiel noted.

"They're not happy with these kind of changes, but I think they're going to grin and bear it," Boivin said of the vendors that could be subject to the new wage. "Obviously that could change. They could threaten to sue. They could do whatever they will, but we're going ahead with it."

Jean Medina, a spokesperson for Airlines for America, said the organization is unhappy a single industry is being targeted.

"We think there are appropriate ways to address the minimum wage, and that's through the state legislature or the federal level, which would affect all workers and employers," she said. "With approximately 3 million workers in the state of Minnesota, there's no policy justification for having a different minimum wage for a few thousand workers at one airport."

Medina said airline employees are covered under union contracts, which aren't affected by the wage change. But vendors who have contracts with the airlines will be affected.

A spokesperson with Air Serv, an airline vendor company, did not respond to a request for comment.

Terms of the new requirement would be:

• $10 minimum hourly wage as of Aug. 1, 2015 to coincide with state hike to $9 the same day
• $10.50 minimum hourly wage as of Aug. 1, 2016, also coinciding with state hike to $9.50
• Annual increase to match state indexed minimum wage, plus $1 per hour

Contracts with existing vendors were renegotiated last year to require they provide sick leave and retention policies. Airport officials say those haven't all been formally signed yet, allowing the inclusion of the new wage policy and making the changes effective during the term of the current contracts.

The change would require approval by the MAC's chairman and the 14-member commission. 

But the commission last month requested a recommendation be brought forward by the airport's management staff, and the contract language was specifically directed by Boivin, according a memo being distributed to the MAC commissioners. 

Boivin says he expects the proposal will be approved.

MPR News reporter Peter Cox contributed to this report