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Airport Workers Central to Sustainable Recovery

rick king

When we think about airports and recovery from impacts of the pandemic, our minds quickly go to increased flight activity and passenger demand.

After all, that is what drives financial success at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP), helps propel the overall economy of the region and gets you where you want to be, when you want to be there.

It is, in short, at the core of the Metropolitan Airports Commission’s (MAC) legislated purpose and the focus of many of our decisions and activities.

We are certainly working hard to spur air travel recovery through close communications with our airline partners, the area business community and our customers. We are also advancing recovery through the Travel Confidently program, which is geared toward making travel safer through a focus on airport cleaning and sanitizing, face covering requirements, social distancing, and hundreds of hand sanitizing stations. That program will continue to grow as we explore additional ways of helping people stay safe and healthy at MSP.

For the recovery to be as strong and sustainable as possible, though, we need to focus on more than air service.

We need to look deeper, at a broader range of fundamental factors.

We need to acknowledge that our success and our reputation as one of the best airports in North America depends not only on airlines and air service, but also on the people on the ground, the workers who make MSP the airport of choice that it has become for many travelers.

MSP is a major employer. The most recent economic impact study, based on 2016 data, estimated that MSP supports some 89,000 jobs, including 21,000 directly tied to operations at the airport.

It’s a diverse workforce befitting an international airport that serves people from around the globe – a workforce that year after year makes MSP a top award-winning achiever in the airport industry.

We need to take action now to ensure MSP has the stable, experienced, high-quality workforce it needs for years to come.

The MAC board has approached the challenge in two ways: first, by making sure wages at MSP are competitive with those elsewhere in the metropolitan area; and second, by adding labor peace and/or worker retention provisions to several MAC policies.

I’ll touch on both actions in turn.

Just this week the MAC board approved a new ordinance that will phase in a $15 minimum wage at MSP. The ordinance applies to a wide array of workers who provide services impacting travelers, including those involved in passenger-related security, in-terminal passenger handling services, ramp services, in-flight catering, cleaning and concessions. Higher wages will help businesses at MSP compete for workers with businesses in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Beginning January 1, 2021 those MSP workers must be paid at least $13.25 an hour, an amount that will rise to $14.25 on July 1, 2021 and $15 on July 1, 2022, concurrent with the $15 minimum wage effective date in Minneapolis. The minimum wage will then be adjusted annually to reflect increases in the cost of living.

Separately, in September the MAC board added labor peace and worker retention language to several Commission policies. Those provisions will help retain experienced MSP employees when service providers change and ensure key services are not interrupted by labor disputes. The policies apply to concession agreements and MAC service contracts as well as to holders of Commercial Service License Agreements, such as companies offering passenger wheelchair and cart services as well as those providing ground handling, de-icing and fueling services.

Some small and disadvantaged businesses had concerns that labor peace and worker retention requirements might make it hard for them to be successful at the airport. In response, we included language in the policies making businesses with fewer than 75 full-time-equivalent employees automatically exempt from the labor peace or worker retention provisions. In addition, the new provisions provide flexibility for the MAC in cases where such requirements would substantially hinder the participation of disadvantaged and small businesses in bidding or proposal processes or would hamper the MAC’s ability to meet its goals for assisting disadvantaged businesses. On a case-by-case basis, the MAC will weigh a set of criteria to decide whether or not to include labor peace or worker retention provisions in a competitive selection process or contract.

We know the crowds of busy travelers will return to MSP. The steps the Metropolitan Airports Commission is taking now will ensure that a stable, experienced, high-quality workforce is on hand to serve them when they arrive – and for years to come.

Stay well. We hope to see you soon.

rk signature



Rick King

Chair, MAC Board of Commissioners