When Gov. Mark Dayton spoke recently about raising wages and improving working conditions for airport workers, he gave my story as one of his motivations. When he appointed me to my seat on the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) in January, he had heard that I am a father of five and provider for my wife and kids, working at an airport that supports billions of dollars in profits each year, yet I only make $8 per hour, the state minimum wage.
I am incredibly proud to be the first minimum-wage worker and first East African/Somali-American worker appointed to the MAC, but I don’t plan on resting on those accomplishments. Like the governor, I know that airport workers deserve better, and am incredibly proud that I am now in a position to make sure the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) is having a real conversation about how we make these changes possible.
The MAC has always worked with airlines like Delta and their subcontractors like AirServ, my employer, but it has proved over the last few months that it also has the power to improve conditions at the airport for working people. In the last three months, after scores of protests and rallies from workers and our allies, the MAC has made important moves that have improved the lives of thousands of workers at the airport.
One huge victory was workers winning up to nine days of paid time off per year for a full-time worker, up from the zero days that most of us had. This will end the impossible choice too many workers have had to make for years: choosing whether to take time to nurse ourselves or our family back to health, or go to work to get the paycheck needed to put food on the table.
The MAC also stood up to Prime Flight, a subcontractor that was paying its workers less than it had committed to in its contract with the airport. This resulted in dozens of workers going from $11 per hour to $16 per hour, the amount the company had told the MAC it would be paying workers. This is making a huge difference in the lives of those workers.
With my new position on the MAC, I feel compelled to make sure these positive steps continue.
As a worker, I know that having fair pay, decent benefits and proper training will help me and my co-workers on the front lines provide the best service possible. Whether a wheelchair assistant or cart driver (like me) who helps move seniors and people with disabilities around the airport or a cabin cleaner who cleans and checks the planes, we do important work to keep the airport running and deserve more than the minimum wage many of us are currently paid.
As a MAC commissioner, I believe I have the chance to take a great airport and make it even better. Airlines like Delta have seen record profits and skyrocketing CEO pay, while the workers on the front lines haven’t been so lucky. This is wrong. As Dayton said, the airline industry can afford it, and our airport ought to better reflect our values.
It is incredibly hard to raise a family on minimum wage, and at a profitable and highly regarded airport like MSP, workers should not have to take on second and third jobs just to pay their bills. Many workers put in up to 80 hours a week at various jobs, missing important time with their families.
I am proud of the firsts that were accomplished with my appointment and that my story resonated with the governor, but I will be even more proud when I am able to use my new position to be a voice for those who have been voiceless for too long. It is time for the MAC to take action and make sure all workers have fair pay, decent benefits, and the support and training they deserve.
Ibrahim Mohamed, of Rosemount, is a member of the Metropolitan Airports Commission.