POWER — Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower & Rebuild — is determined to be plugged in to the $6 billion expansion project at Philadelphia International Airport.
And after the second of four meetings in June — with the third one scheduled for 6:45 p.m. Monday, June 18 at St. Raymond’s Catholic Church, 1350 W. Vernon Road — it’s equally apparent that elected officials are coming on board in support of POWER’s push.
POWER’s concern is that qualified minority workers will be overlooked when the more than 100,000 temporary and permanent positions open up in construction and orbiting services. The multi-billion dollar project is estimated to inject millions into the local economy over the next several decades; the expansion project itself could take 15 years to complete.
Despite opposition from United Airways and a handful of residents in Tinicum Township, Pennsylvania, the expansion project is well underway, as the city has selected the firms that will manage the logistics of the project. So there’s no time better than now to ramp up support from the community and local elected officials, POWER organizers say.
Arch Street United Methodist’s Reverend Robin Hynicka, long at the forefront of POWER’s push, said minority and economically-challenged qualified workers haven’t benefited from the array of construction jobs that have popped up downtown, saying that while these companies were able to take advantage of tax breaks, the community didn’t benefit from the jobs these work sites created.
“We must change this,” said Hynicka during a recent rally and information session at Congregation Rodeph Shalom. “As people of faith — as a city — we can no longer subsidize projects that don’t put our neighbors back to work.”
Philadelphia City Councilmen Kenyatta Johnson and Curtis Jones have supported POWER since the beginning; fellow Councilmen William Green and Mark Squilla also voiced their support for POWER’s agenda, saying they would commit publicly to working with the coalition.
POWER laid out its set of economic justice principles at its latest meeting, which include first-source hiring so that the city’s unemployed have a fair shot at landing a job; providing resources for creating an enhanced training and recruitment model; and an increase in minority participation in trade apprenticeship programs.
“The Philadelphia Airport is our biggest economic engine,” said POWER organizer and Congregation Leyv Ha-Ir/Heart of The City Rabbi Julie Greenberg. “Using that engine to address city poverty and unemployment only makes sense. Local hiring requirements at the airport can serve as a model for other large, subsidized projects in our city.”
POWER seems to be partly motivated by a similar campaign in Los Angeles. There, community organizers were able to broker the Community Benefits Agreement between the Los Angeles faith-based coalition and the city’s airport and municipal leadership. The community, City of Los Angeles and LAX agreement came in 2004, when all parties entered a legally binding agreement that addressed the $11 billion airport renovation plan there. The community coalition was granted several conditions due to the agreement, including $15 million for airport job training, establishing a firm to oversee local hiring, soundproofing area schools and residences and increasing opportunities for minority and women in the actual modernization of LAX.
“The win-win of public support for the Los Angeles Airport — in exchange for meaningful local hiring and training systems, and living wage provisions — is a model for Philadelphia,” said Reverend Mark Tyler, pastor of Mother Bethel AME Church.