MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota’s East African leaders are calling for a $15 an hour minimum wage at the airport.

That’s nearly double the state’s current minimum wage of $8 an hour.

A new employment report shows thousands of East Africans working at the airport are earning poverty-level wages.

More than 2,500 East Africans work at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, according to a report by The Center for Popular Democracy — making the airport the largest employer for Minnesota’s newest immigrants.

Most of them work in minimum-wage jobs, like cart driver Abdi Ali.

“Sometimes you think, ‘Why am I working this?'” Ali said. “Working like $8 an hour, you’re not even getting by and paying your bills.”

The report says 63 percent of Minnesota Somalis live at or below the poverty level, and it’s calling for a wage increase to help raise living standards.

“We found that raising wages to $15 for airport workers would bring — just to the East African community — $30 million to the local community,” report researcher and author Eden Yosief said.

Airport workers are employed by private airlines and related businesses. The Metropolitan Airports Commission recently required companies to offer paid leave.

Here is the full statement from MAC:

“The Metropolitan Airports Commission has long had a strong relationship with labor and takes steps to ensure vendors providing services to the Commission compensate their employees fairly for that work.

At issue are employees who work for private businesses under contract to airlines. In December the Commission board passed a policy requiring those businesses to provide paid leave to their employees and to protect employees should an airline change service vendors.

The MAC Board will be discussing wage issues over the next couple of months.”

Gov. Mark Dayton says he’ll support a $10 airport wage, and says businesses opposing it cannot threaten to move.

“And I think it’s achievable. I think it is something that the airports commission can do, should do,” Dayton said. “I mean, that airport’s not going to South Dakota or Cambodia.”

Minnesota raised the state minimum wage to $8 an hour last August.

The wage is scheduled to go up to $9.50 an hour next year.

Pat Kessler