Airport Workers Across the Country Protest for Better Wages and Working Conditions on MLK Day

As part of their campaign for a $15-per-hour minimum wage and a benefits package, thousands of U.S. national airport employees held a protest on Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a sign of solidarity.

According to the Chicago Tribune, employees from nine national airports organized acts of civil disobedience in each of the cities, including Washington D.C., Seattle, Portland, Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia, Newark, Boston, and New York City.

The frustrated employees risked arrest to participate in the MLK Day protests, blocking traffic and disrupting general daily operations at all nine of the airports. They were also protesting recent threats against their efforts to unionize.

“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.”

National airports are currently located within 31 states, and almost all of these airports use contracted companies to employ lower-level staff members. The protesters are alleging that these third-party contractors create hostile work environments, engaging in discriminatory practices and harassment.

In Washington D.C., over 200 disgruntled employees of the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and other supporters halted traffic near the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial at the Mall, causing significant gridlock.

According to local D.C. news affiliate WTOP, protesters carried signs that read “Poverty Doesn’t Fly.” The group sat down in the intersection at Independence Ave. and 14th St. for several minutes before dispersing from the area.

One Reagan employee, David Tucker, claims that working conditions have severely worsened in the 53 years that he has been employed at the airport.

“When I started, I was making $1.75 an hour but I had benefits, insurance and sick leave and you know, hospitalization. But 53 years later, I only make $3.77 an hour with no benefits. So look at the difference. It’s not right,” said Tucker, who checks passengers’ bags at curbside.

Local clergy members and public officials were also involved in the D.C. protests, including U.S. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. She said that her goal was to put pressure on the federal government, as well as the airports themselves, to change the policies of third-party contractors.

“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.

There have been no reported arrests from any of the protests, and it remains to be seen whether these efforts will lead to substantial change.

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