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Elected officials and workers protest at LaGuardia Airport with civil disobedience

By Bill Parry

Dozens of protesters were arrested by the NYPD Monday for closing down an the 94th Street Bridge leading into LaGuardia Airport. U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Manhattan), City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and several union leaders and workers were cuffed and taken into custody for failing to heed orders to disperse.

The civil disobedience was part of a rally and march by airport workers to protest unfair wages and labor practices. Employees of contractors for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey had requested that Martin Luther King Day should be a paid holiday. When the request was ignored, leaders from Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union decided to protest and raise awareness about the unfair wages.

The 32 people who were arrested were loaded onto a bus and taken to the 115th Precinct, where they were given summonses and released.

Nearly 12,000 workers at the three area airports are paid near minimum wage with no benefits. Andrew Lloyd, a cabin cleaner at JFK, said, “I make $8 an hour augmented by public assistance, no sick days and no vacation. We’re here to let the companies and the Port Authority know that we’re tired of it.”

Many of the elected officials at the rally cited record profits for the airlines as well as record numbers of passengers using JFK and LaGuardia as further reason to adjust the wages.

“The thousands of New York area airport workers who have no health insurance, paid sick leave or the right to organize deserve better for their tireless work,” Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) said. “Millions of New Yorkers pass through our airports every year and it’s the hard work and dedication of the workers who help make that possible.”

Rev. Michael Walrond, Jr, spoke for the dozens of clergy who took part saying, “Dr. King was assassinated while supporting Memphis sanitation workers working under deplorable conditions. It is an affront to his legacy that 46 years after his death New York area airports workers labor under conditions worse than those of the sanitation workers he championed. If he were still alive, Dr. King would be here getting arrested with us.”

Before his arrest, Rangel spoke at the rally saying, “There can be no better day to stand up for living wages and benefits for workers who unfortunately are a perfect example of the kind of inequality that Dr. Martin Luther King was fighting for at the end of his life. We have to stand up for justice. If it means getting arrested in an act of civil disobedience, then we bear that arrest as a badge of honor.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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