Atlanta City Council members raise concerns about airport worker pay

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Atlanta City Council members voted to hold off on approving a contract for janitorial services at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, saying they wanted more information on how much workers are paid at the airport.

The vote came after labor union representatives said janitorial workers, who labor under a different contract for cleaning of the terminal, raised concerns about pay.

“We’ve been very frustrated with the wages,” Chris Baumann, a representative for Service Employees International Union affiliate Workers United, told the council’s transportation committee. He said most workers on the contract make $8.50 an hour. “We say we’re world class but our wages are low class.”

Cynthia Hartsfield told the transportation committee during public comments she has worked at the airport for 35 years and makes $12.10 an hour.

A spokeswoman for the contractor, ABM, issued a statement saying: “We deeply value our team members and thank them for their hard work and dedication.” She said ABM works with the Atlanta Airlines Terminal Co., the airline cooperative that is its client for the contract, “to review wages and to make adjustments based on local job market analysis.”

Atlanta airport officials were seeking approval for an $892,584 contract with American Facility Services for janitorial work in cargo buildings, commercial vehicle lots, perimeter security guard booths and other facilities.

Council member Amir Farokhi said there's a desire for airport workers to be paid a living wage.

Airport manager John Selden said American Facility Services plans to pay $13.75 an hour.

“In the end, it is the traveling public that would pay most of the costs,” Selden added.

Committee members voted to hold the resolution instead of approving it, saying they want additional information on pay, including a comparison to other airports and what the city could require from companies competing for city contracts.

“When we don’t pay people enough, it’s a strain on all of our systems,” said council member Jennifer Ide. “It’s a strain on Grady (Memorial Hospital) when people show up with no insurance.”

Separately, Hartsfield-Jackson is moving forward with a plan to cut rent for its struggling duty-free operator while extending its lease.

Selden said Duty Free Americas Peachtree LLC has lost $39 million over the seven-year contract and told the airport the current minimum rent of $15 million a year is not financially feasible.

The airport plans to reduce the rent to $10.5 million annually while exercising a three-year lease extension option. It also will take back Coach and Michael Kors stores from Duty Free Americas and convert those locations into eateries.

The airport and Duty Free Americas “were thinking that international travel from Hartsfield-Jackson would explode,” Selden said. “That has not come to fruition.”

Representatives for Unite Here, a union that represents airport concessionaire workers, said the contract should be rebid.

Selden said the airport chose to extend the agreement and reduce the rent, rather than have the duty-free stores close for a year or more while the contract is rebid and lose $10.5 million a year in rent.

The council’s finance committee voted 4-1 for the Duty Free Americas contract extension, with council member Matt Westmoreland voting against it. The transportation committee voted 4-2 for the rent reduction, with council members Westmoreland and Farokhi voting against it.

“If the sales aren’t what they expected them to be, maybe the use of that space would be better served by a different duty-free operator or a different use altogether,” Farokhi said.

The measures now go to the full council for a vote.

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