Airport workers let their voices be heard

Stephon Johnson | 1/21/2016, 11:36 a.m.
They had been planning this for a while, and the main event didn’t disappoint.
Assemblyman Keith Wright getting arrested Contributed

They had been planning this for a while, and the main event didn’t disappoint.

Airport workers around the tristate area have used holidays to protest for a living wage and better benefits, but the weekend leading up to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day seemed to be the perfect setting for the organizers, community leaders and elected officials who turned out over the weekend.

In New York City, airport workers from John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports rallied outside of LaGuardia with elected officials, including New York Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, New York Assembly Member Keith Wright, New York Sen. Daniel Squadron and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

Contracted airport workers have come together under the banner of Airport Workers United, a movement of workers and allies advocating for a $15 minimum wage and the right to organize. Cities such as Boston, Chicago, New York City, Newark, Philadelphia, Miami, Washington, D.C., Seattle and Portland, Ore., engaged in civil disobedience.

Airport workers risked arrest during their act of civil disobedience, and law enforcement was there to grant them their wish. According to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a total of 24 protesters were issued summonses. Several protesters were taken into custody as well.

In New Jersey, workers at Newark Airport followed suit, pushing for better wages and benefits and invoking the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King as a reason for their actions.

“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an advocate of civil rights and workers’ rights,” stated Gertrudis Lopez, a cabin cleaner at Newark Liberty International Airport. “If Dr. King was alive today, he would stand with airport workers like me, who are fighting for dignity and a living wage so we can support our families.”

Kevin Brown, 32BJ vice president and New Jersey state director, echoed similar sentiments.

“We stand on broad shoulders today as we engage in peaceful protest and civil disobedience to make our voices heard about the injustices these airport workers endure here at Newark Liberty International Airport and at other hubs across the country,” said Brown in a statement. “We need the Port Authority to hear their pleas and live up to its promise to release its higher wage and benefits plan so airport workers can live with dignity and give their children a bright future.”

“Fifty years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched with striking sanitation workers, airport workers face the same kind of injustice,” added Newark Mayor Ras Baraka in a statement. “We need to right this wrong. We need to stand by these hardworking men and women in their fight for a living wage so they can begin lifting themselves and their families out of poverty.”

Back in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo hopped on the bandwagon. In a piece penned for the New York Daily News, Cuomo called for a raise in minimum wage for airport workers.

“Here’s the reality: It’s long past time to raise the minimum wage for all workers. No New Yorker—whether a security officer, baggage handler or ticketing agent—should have to live in fear that they won’t be able to feed their family or afford basic health care,” wrote Cuomo.