Workers from nine U.S. airports are planning to block bridges, march through terminals and protest at airline headquarters during a day of civil disobedience on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The workers — a mix of cleaners, baggage handlers, fuelers and wheelchair attendants — will risk arrest at airports and other locations including the National Mall, to bring attention to their campaign for better wages, the Service Employees International Union said.
The actions are the latest in the airport workers’ campaign for a $15-per-hour minimum wage, benefits and job protections. They’re also protesting threats against their efforts to unionize.
In Washington, as many as 200 workers from Reagan National Airport and their supporters are planning to block traffic from Independence Avenue SW, near the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial at the Mall, in what could potentially cause significant gridlock to a major downtown thoroughfare. The protesters will march from the memorial along Independence Avenue, culminating with the takeover of Kutz Bridge over the Tidal Basin.
Actions also are also being organized in Boston, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Miami, Chicago, Portland and Seattle.
“These men and women are calling for real change at all these airports in the hopeful and visionary spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King,” said Jaime Contreras, head of 32BJ Service Employees International Union for the Washington area. “We are protesting what we already know is a gross injustice and humiliating working conditions.”
In the past few months, airport workers have held protests, rallies and prayers, bringing attention to hourly wages that are as low as $6.75, which they say force many of those who keep the airports running into working two or three jobs to sustain their families. Besides low salaries, some workers allege discrimination, harassment and hostile work environments. They work for companies that are contracted by the airlines.
Monday’s actions could create disruptions at airports and other locations in the nine major cities.
In New York, workers will march across the 94th Street bridge to La Guardia Airport and rally at the airport entrance. In Newark and Boston, protesters will march into the terminals and pass ticketing agents, risking arrest inside the terminal. In Portland, workers will march through the airport and do a banner drop from skybridges at the Alaska Airlines terminal.
They will rally in front of United Airlines headquarters downtown Chicago and will protest outside the headquarters of airline contractor Eulen in Miami.
In the District, the event will be backed by supporters — from members of the clergy to public officials — D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) among them. Their goal is to call on the federal government to take steps to protect the workers and put pressure on airports, airlines and the contractors that hire the workers.
“On Dr. King’s birthday on Monday, I want to carry on the King legacy by standing with airport workers, from baggage handlers to cabin cleaners, fuelers to security officers, whose jobs have been contracted out to companies paying shamefully low wages,” Norton said in a statement, noting that King was killed in Memphis where “he had gone to stand with sanitation workers who faced inhumane conditions at work and poverty wages.”