Airport workers in New York were arrested Monday for blocking traffic on the 94th St. bridge in a united show of civil disobedience against working conditions which they say are an "affront to Dr. King's legacy."
According to the local branch of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which documented the action live on Twitter, hundreds of people who work as security guards, cabin cleaners, sky caps and ID checkers and their supporters marched along Ditmars Blvd. leading to LaGuardia airport in Queens.
Marching on the national holiday in his honor, the protesters took up the mantle of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and wore signs that said "I am a Man" and "I am a Woman" in honor of the Memphis sanitation workers strike, which he died championing.
"Dr. King marched with Memphis sanitation workers working under deplorable conditions, yet making what today would be $11.41 per hour," said the local SEIU chapter, which supports the action. "It is an affront to Dr. King’s legacy that, 46 years after his death, New York area airports workers are making even less in real wages than the sanitation workers he championed."
In addition to the union, the protest was bolstered by the attendance of several city and state politicians and clergy leaders.
— Jeff Rae (@jeffrae) January 20, 2014
Last month, employees of private contractors at John F. Kennedy, Newark Liberty International and LaGuardia airports presented the Port Authority with petitions describing the "deplorable working conditions at the airports, including poverty wages with little or no health care and few paid holidays, vacation time and sick days," SEIU reports.
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Now, after meeting with the Port Authority earlier this month with no progress since that time, the workers are "fed up."
The airline staffers are the victims of a competitive bidding process involving outside contractors and airlines such as United and Delta, reports the NY Daily News.
“These contractors compete against each other to see who can get a contract with the airlines, and they do it by cutting the costs of the workforce,” Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU, explains.
The airport workers are adding their voices to a growing national demand for higher wages, which has been largely taken up by fast food workers and Walmart employees. Following a series of national actions by the low wage workers, the call to substantially increase the minimum wage has begun to make traction in cities across the U.S..
Ahead of the action, workers asked that the Port Authority grant MLK Day as a paid holiday as a "sign of good faith" that their calls were being heard.
The Port Authority responded saying they "support" the proposed holiday though they must "continue to have discussions with the union, airlines and other airport stakeholders regarding this issue.”