OIA to study impact of possible $15 minimum wage

The Greater Orlando Airport Authority said they will at least take a closer look into the possibility of a $15 per hour minimum wage at Orlando International Airport.

During the board’s meeting Wednesday, members heard from several members of the service union who are demanding the raise. 

The Service Employees International Union, Local 32BJ began the call last month after commissioning a study of the airport. The union found several airport employees, specifically wheelchair attendants, were making as low as $5.23 per hour.

Though those workers are not directly employed by GOAA, union leaders called on the board to create an across the board policy for all businesses within the airport.

"Just set a higher minimum wage called a living wage for anyone that does business in this airport,” said Florida SEIU 32BJ Director Helene O'Brien. 

The board did have concerns about such a sweeping move though.  In a study of their own, local economist Dr. Sean Snaith questioned some of the methodology and findings in the union’s study, and cautioned of the larger effects a minimum wage increase could bring. 

"When you implement a change in minimum wage or implement a living wage: you know, how are employers going to respond?" said Dr. Snaith.

Board members echoed that concern, pointing out that the airport houses more than 925 companies doing business on site.

"It's nice to say we'll inject ourselves in the employer-employee relationship, but what are we going to do to all the workers?" said GOAA Chairman Frank Kruppenbacher.

Members pointed out that the raise would affect everyone from the wheelchair pushers to workers with master degrees. Salaries would likely have to be adjusted all over the airport, and all of those employers, many who already have specific contracts with the airport, would have to agree to come along.

"It's a complex organism and so there are unintended consequences that may come out of this,” said GOAA CEO Phil Brown.

Another big question in the meeting was how much tips actually factor in for employees. The wheelchair attendants are considered tipped workers, but many said they often receive no tip for their time; regularly spending upwards of 45 minutes helping a single person. Several workers shared stories of barely affording rent and having to work every day of the week with no vacation time, just to keep up. 

"The websites that talk to people with disabilities about traveling do not mention that they need to be prepared to tip," said Tiffany Namey, an Orlando advocate for people with disabilities.

Some GOAA members brought up conflicting reports though; some workers reporting very good tips for the position.

However, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer pointed out that the possibility of some making less than $6 an hour can’t be ignored.

"Maybe they're making tips, maybe they're not: I just don't know the answer to that and I think it's worth spending a little time and money to figure out,” said Dyer.

So, the airport board decided Wednesday to hire someone to study what a $15 per hour minimum wage would actually mean at OIA. Board members said that would likely take about 6 months to complete.

Union members were optimistic after the meeting, but leaders said they would hold the airport to seriously considering the change.