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Union Members, Politicians Arrested at LaGuardia Airport MLK Day March for Workers’ Rights

Michael Nagle for The New York Times

Michael Nagle for The New York Times

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32 people, including several prominent politicians, were arrested for participating in a march and act of civil disobedience yesterday as they blocked traffic on the 94th street bridge to protest low wages and subpar standards for workers at LaGuardia Airport.  The protest coincided with the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and was a rallying call for new Mayor Bill DeBlasio to help these workers in their fight out of poverty.  

Joining members of the Service Employees International Union, the union which represents building services employees, were Congressman Charles Rangel, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, public advocate Letitia James, and City Council members Ydanis Rodriguez, Mark Levine, Jimmy Van Bramer, Inez Dickens, Carlos Menchaca, Ritchie Torres, I. Daneek Miller, Ruben Wills and Antonio Reynoso.  Rangel, Torres, Reynoso, and 29 SEIU members were arrested for taking part in the protest.  

Before the march, Rep. Charles Rangel told the crowd: “No one should be one paycheck away from homelessness.  We have a new mayor now, Bill de Blasio, and I am certain that he will be spearheading our fight for better wages.”

The protest is part of a campaign demanding better working conditions for the nearly 15,000 people who work for contractors hired by airlines and terminal operators at New York City airports.  Many of the affected workers earn near $8 an hour.  Among the demands from the workers are higher wages, health benefits, paid sick days and the right to have MLK Day be a paid holiday.

Many of the protesters note that their low wages cause them to rely on government assistance programs.  Andrew Lloyd, a cabin cleaner at JFK Airport, told Politicker: “I find it nonsense that I have a full-time job and I have to seek public assistance.  I have to do overtime just to support myself and my family.”

The high politician turnout is part of an evolving era in New York City politics in which fighting the income inequality that marked the Bloomberg administration is increasingly en vogue.  The fight against income inequality has continued to grow since the onset of the Occupy movement and is likely to be a major talking point on the national scene during the 2014 midterm elections.  As Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito told the crowd: “The City Council stands united to support you, airport workers, in your demands for dignified work and respect.  We have seen a mobilization across this nation of fast-food workers, car wash workers, now airport workers. We will ensure that we stand with you.”


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