EPI economic analyst David Cooper and economist Ben Zipperer submitted comments in support of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s proposal to raise the minimum wage for airport workers to $19 an hour by 2023. They argue that the policy will improve the operation of the New York and New Jersey metropolitan region’s airports by helping attract and retain a skilled workforce, thereby reducing the costs and dangers associated with high rates of turnover.
“Airports have a vested interest in reducing turnover and increasing productivity,” said Cooper, “and by raising the wage floor at LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy, and Newark Liberty, the Port Authority will help airport employers accomplish this goal—while also making it easier for them to recruit for these jobs when necessary.”
A large body of research has shown that raising wages generally—and setting high minimum wage standards specifically—leads to meaningful reductions in employee turnover, or “churn.” Extensive additional research documents the links between higher wages and improved productivity. Airports have a particular interest in reducing turnover, as airport staff face heightened responsibility to ensure safety, security, and efficiency in their work.
By gradually raising the wage floor for contracted airport workers, the Port Authority is setting a standard that will help the airports’ contracted service providers to attract and retain a skilled workforce, cut down on costly and potentially dangerous turnover, and help ensure the smooth operation of critical pieces of regional and national infrastructure. Strong wage standards, such as those adopted by the Port Authority, will be increasingly important as the health of the labor market continues to improve and employers face fiercer competition to recruit and retain staff.
Importantly, write Cooper and Zipperer, the Port Authority should ensure that this policy is applied universally to maximize its positive effects—providing simplicity and predictability for airport workers, the firms that employ them, and the regulators who will enforce this rule.