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As Strike Threat Looms, Phila. Lawmakers Press For Better Treatment of Workers at PHL Airport

By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Heated and emotional testimony dominated a Philadelphia City Council committee this morning as the lawmakers gave initial approval to a bill that prods contractors at Philadelphia International Airport to strike new labor deals with their unionized workers.

In the hotseat was James Tyrrell, deputy director at the airport, who testified against Councilman Wilson Goode's proposal.

Goode wants a new lease between the city and the airlines to include provisions that guarantee labor deals for workers of contractors and subcontractors.

Tyrrell said that would add to the airlines' costs, which prompted Goode to ask Tyrell about airport worker morale.


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(James Tyrrell testifies before a Philadelphia City Council committee. Image from City of Phila. TV)


(Goode:)  "Airport workers might be frustrated and pissed off -- is that fair to say?"

(Tyrrell:)  "Uh, it could be, yes."

(Goode:)  "Is that good for business?"

(Tyrrell:)  "Absolutely not."

(Goode:)  "How could it be good for business?"

(Tyrrell:)  "It's not good for business."

(Goode:)  "Because it's cheap labor.  That's why it's good for business, right?"  (applause)

The Nutter administration is currently negotiating a new "Use and Lease Agreement" with the 16 airlines that fly in and out of Philadelphia International.

Also testifying was one former employee of an airport contractor, wheelchair attendant Misha Williams, who tearfully recounted being fired because of her activity in support of a fair wage.

"I like my job and I want it back," she said, wiping away tears.  "But I want it to be a good job, where we can speak out for fair treatment without being fired for unjust reasons."

The committee approved Goode's measure, as well as a separate measure that requires similar labor deals for any new hotels that receive public support.

Both bills now go to the full City Council for a vote.

Meanwhile, about 100 workers who help passengers with their luggage at Philadelphia International Airport are pledging to go on strike tomorrow, according to Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union.

Their employer, Prime Flight, is a subcontractor that provides services for passengers on US Airways, Delta, United, Qatar, and Spirit airlines.

A spokeswoman for the union says "unfair labor practices, including the termination of a worker" are among the issues they're protesting.

She says she expects the strike could be "disruptive," although a spokeswoman for American Airlines says a walkout will "not impact operations."

KYW Newsradio's Ian Bush contributed to this report.

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