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Bistate agency orders wage hikes for low-paid workers at its NY airports but not those in NJ

NEWARK, N.J. - The agency that runs the major airports in the New York City metropolitan area has ordered pay hikes for low-wage workers at the airports in the city but not in New Jersey, where officials believe pay increases should be negotiated.

The different treatment reflects a split at the agency, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The agency's members are appointed by the governors of the two states, and its fissures have been on full public display lately in the traffic jam scandal centred on aides to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

The agency's executive director, Patrick Foye — appointed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat — sent a letter Tuesday to four airlines demanding that their contractors give an immediate $1-an-hour pay raise to workers at New York City's Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, who now make under $9 hourly, and phase in a new minimum wage of $10.10. That amount is what President Barack Obama promoted as a nationwide minimum wage during his State of the Union address this week.

In his letter, Foye also said that Martin Luther King Jr. Day should be treated as a holiday for all the contractor's employers.

"The Port Authority is prepared to use every tool at its disposal to achieve these goals," Foye wrote to the CEOs of Delta, JetBlue, American and United. "Specifically, the Port will enforce these changes through revisions of port-airline agreements."

The letter did not make the same mandates for airlines at Newark Liberty Airport or two others in New Jersey run by the Port Authority, in Teterboro and Atlantic City.

Deputy Executive Director Deborah Gramiccioni, who was appointed last month by Christie, a Republican, said she did not get word of the plan in advance and has concerns about its legality.

"We are absolutely in favour of reasonable wage adjustments negotiated through the collective bargaining process," Gramiccioni said in a statement. "But this directive raises complex labour, business and legal issues that our airlines, their business partners and employees are facing, and we need to consider the significant financial and operational impacts at our airports."

The Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ has been pushing for better pay for the 12,000 workers it represents at all three major airports, who perform such duties as cleaning the planes and moving baggage, and the group hailed Foye's letter as a victory at least for those who work at the New York City airports.

Jean Medina, a spokeswoman for the industry group Airlines for America, said in a statement that the group does not believe the letter is valid and that required pay raises should be determined by legislation, not the Port Authority.

"Airlines negotiate individually with their contractors to obtain services," she said. "It would raise antitrust law concerns for the airlines to share with each other the details of their agreements or to discuss their plans regarding the terms of their agreements with contractors."

Another major dispute between the states at the Port Authority was visible this month when emails and text messages were made public showing that an official in Christie's administration plotted to close lanes on an approach to the busy George Washington Bridge — which the agency also runs — apparently as political retribution. Christie has apologized but denied any knowledge of the plans, which are now being investigated by federal prosecutors and New Jersey lawmakers.

When the lanes were closed in September, it was Foye, the Cuomo appointee, who ordered them reopened, sparking a series of angry emails between officials from the two states.

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