Atlanta council committee urges $15/hr pay for airport cleaning staff

Democrats introduced a bill in early 2021 to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2025.
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Democrats introduced a bill in early 2021 to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2025.

An Atlanta City Council committee is urging companies to pay airport custodial workers at least $15 an hour.

But the committee vote could prove merely symbolic even if it is approved by the entire council. That’s because Georgia state law preempts locally set minimum wages, specifically prohibiting municipalities from directly or indirectly mandating a minimum wage for private-sector workers or city contractors.

The resolution by the city council transportation committee Wednesday says starting hourly wages for some jobs at janitorial contractors ABM Industries and CSM America are as low as $8.50. More than 700 janitorial and maintenance workers clean 3 million square feet at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, including restrooms, gate areas and other public areas.

Georgia’s minimum wage is $5.15 an hour, but employers are generally subject to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

While many city council members and city officials say they support $15 pay for workers, and the City of Atlanta has already raised the minimum wage it pays its own government employees to $15 an hour, airport janitorial workers are a few steps removed from direct city control.

Responsibility for cleaning and maintenance of the airport terminal falls to the airlines, which decades ago formed a cooperative called Atlanta Airlines Terminal Company to jointly handle the work. AATC contracts with ABM Industries and CSM America for janitorial work.

Many businesses are paying more to attract employees amid a worker shortage and can increase prices to adjust for higher costs. But some contractors may make a set amount of money for the work they perform under a long-term contract, regardless of how much the cost of labor increases.

Still, Atlanta officials face increasing pressure to support higher wages at the airport, which is owned and operated by the City of Atlanta.

Atlanta city council members running for mayor in Tuesday’s election may also face more pressure now to be responsive to labor unions that could influence votes.

“This is of great interest to many,” Andre Dickens, chair of the transportation committee and a candidate for mayor, said before the committee’s vote. “We’re advocating on (workers’) behalf for sure to get increased wages.”

ABM workers are represented by the Service Employees International Union, which has pushed for higher pay and is negotiating for a new contract after last month’s expiration of its collective bargaining agreement.

The city council committee vote sends the resolution to the city council for consideration on Monday.

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