Businesses in San Jose airport seek COVID relief funds
The Mineta San Jose International Airport is pictured in this file photo.

    Vendors at Mineta San Jose International Airport are not seeing revenues return to pre-pandemic levels, and local lawmakers want to offer financial help.

    The San Jose City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to let city officials continue negotiations with airport businesses about how to dole out COVID-related relief funds. A city commission will also take a look at the airport’s wage policies in an effort to help workers whose hours and pay are affected by the pandemic.

    According to a city memo, 36% of food-related businesses and 73% of retailers are open with limited hours—and are barely making a profit as of October. A spokesperson from the airport declined to comment, referring San José Spotlight back to the city memo.

    “We take pride being the first people to greet visitors to our city,” said Elmer Juco, a cook at a restaurant in the airport. “It’s been a long road to recovery for the airport and for us. We look forward to being part of this ongoing conversation.”

    San Jose’s airport debt has tripled in the last decade, according to the city. That translates to job losses among airport workers in the hospitality industry, which councilmembers are looking to partially solve through reviewing the airport’s living wage policy.

    An airport worker cleans a social distancing floor sticker at one of the terminals. Photo courtesy of Mineta San Jose International Airport.

    “These workers are disproportionately people of color. They live in the same communities and ZIP codes that have suffered the worst effects of the pandemic,” Councilmember Maya Esparza said. “This is our effort to ensure their voices and concerns are heard.”

    Councilmember Raul Peralez, whose district includes the airport, agrees that more needs to be done to support airport workers in addition to airport operations. To help with sagging revenue, the airport has looked at several measures, including increasing the fee amount from rental car companies earlier this year.

    “I think it’s worthwhile to take a look at the competitiveness of wages for our airport workers,” Peralez told San José Spotlight. “We want to be able to staff up the airport completely as we’re getting back to fuller operations at the airport.”

    The COVID-19 pandemic hit San Jose’s airport hard. SJC saw a drop of 53% in passengers in April compared to pre-pandemic times. Both San Jose and San Francisco, which experienced a 60% drop in passengers, are in the top five airports that saw the biggest decline in passengers.

    The airport received $55.5 million in federal dollars in July from the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill signed into law in March.

    A handful of airport workers and labor organizers spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, sharing concerns that they could lose their jobs and hoping some of the federal money will be used to help them.

    “Essential workers at the airport deserve their fair share of federal dollars for COVID relief,” said Jose Pavon, senior political organizer for local union SEIU-USWW.

    Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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