Air Serv move to keep pay of airport wheelchair agents working at New York airports below minimum wage magnifies one of the problems affecting service quality of assistance to passengers with disabilities.
The Daily News investigation into airport assistance for passengers with special needs unveiled the latest issue of concern with regards of assistance agents salaries.
The newspaper came across an Air Serv internal memo informing its wheelchair agents at JFK airport their pay will remain at $7.25 an hour despite the state of New York recently raising it to $8.
“This was an extremely tough decision, and we understand the impact this will have on you and your family,” says the memo signed by Air Serv general manager Robert Sagginario. “However, please know that we considered several other alternatives, and the choice we made is the best option at this time and will have the least impact on our employees overall.” Air Ser reported operating profits of $119 million last year.
“There is a clear correlation between low salaries, heavy workloads and high employee turnover, low morale, poor performance,” Reduced Mobility Rights’ 2013 ground breaking report on assistance levels at European airports found.
Airport assistance agents are not simply wheelchair pushers; for starters, they need to be trained to assist passengers with severe mobility limitations. Training entails learning techniques to help persons move from wheelchairs to aisle chairs, then onto the aircraft seat. Aside from being a degrading experience for the recipient of assistance, improper handling may cause physical injuries.
In the United States, wheelchair agents are allowed to accept tips. In Europe tipping is officially not allowed, but widely tolerated.
Air serv is the parent company of Omni Serv, the company providing wheelchair assistance at London Heathrow airport. Omni Serv recently won the tender for providing assistance to passengers with special needs at Stansted airport.