Thousands of service workers at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and their families are expected to have improved access to healthcare under an amendment to the city’s “living wage law” that was approved by the City Council Wednesday, September 9th.

The City Council voted to require employers to provide health benefits to service workers at LAX or pay them a living wage of $3.25 more per hour. The amendment is intended to serve as a financial incentive to provide family healthcare to airport workers, officials said.

Under the original living wage law, employers were required to pay LAX workers $10.30 an hour with benefits or $11.55 without. While many employers chose to pay workers the higher wage, the amended ordinance will require that they provide insurance or increase the hourly wage to $14.80.

The service workers, who are employed by contractors serving the airlines, perform various duties such as cleaning and searching airplanes, working as security guards, greeting passengers at terminals and assisting passengers in wheelchairs.

According to a study by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, roughly 2,000 of the airport workers and their families have relied on public healthcare programs, while 3,100 people have had no health benefits. Groups that have been active in the living wage effort praised the City Council for enabling the service workers to receive health benefits through increased pay.

“This is hugely important because it will provide family healthcare to 5,000 workers and their families,” Carolina Briones of the Alliance for a New Economy said of the vote. “The City Council is not just investing in the infrastructure at the airport, but understands the need to invest in the workforce.”

She added that the employees perform “essential tasks that keep the airport running” and it’s important that they have quality healthcare because they can be exposed to injury and infectious diseases through their jobs. Providing healthcare is also a key factor in maintaining the workforce, Briones noted.

“Having healthcare is one of the best ways to keep people on the job,” she said.

City Council members who have pushed for living wage benefits for workers also spoke of the need to ensure that service workers get better health insurance, despite the nation’s economic crisis.

“These are the front line troops at the airport; they greet you when you get off the plane and do a lot of the unsung hero work,” City Councilman Bill Rosendahl said.

“Now they can focus on their jobs and not have to worry about their families and their health. It’s the right thing to do and I’m thrilled.”

Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who introduced the motion, said, “When we are spending millions to revitalize LAX, the very least we can do is provide quality healthcare to airport workers and their families, who work so hard and who serve as the face of our city.”

The new living wage ordinance is expected to take effect in January.

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