By Stephon Johnson
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News
They gave you fair warning in December. Beware.
Airport workers, supporters, clergy members and elected officials kept their promise to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Together, they held a protest in favor of paid sick leave on Martin Luther King Day for contracted passenger service workers at Newark International, LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports. A crowd of almost 1,000 individuals blocked the bridge on 94th Street and Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria, Queens, that leads to LaGuardia Airport to bring attention to not only the fight for paid sick leave on MLK Day, but overall working conditions and low wages for airport service employees.
Of the 1,000 protesters, 32 were arrested by New York Police Department officers after they sat in the middle of the bridge leading to LaGuardia, including Rep. Charlie Rangel, New York City Council Members Inez Dickens, Ydanis Rodriguez and Ruben Willis, New York Assembly Members Keith Wright and Walter Thompson Mosley and 32BJ SEIU President Hector Figueroa. New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Public Advocate Letitia James were also on hand to show their support for the workers, but they were not arrested.
“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,” said Mark-Viverito in a statement. “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. It’s time to take care of the workers who help New York City maintain its position as an international gateway.”
Rangel and Figueroa were glad they were arrested, as it brings attention to the workers’ plight.
“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 Jr. was fighting for at the end of his life,” said Rangel. “When thousands of workers work full-time but can’t put food on their families’ tables without food stamps, when they can’t get health benefits, when they can’t get paid sick days, then we must do whatever we can to stand up for them.”
“It is an honor to stand with these courageous men and women who are asking only for decent wages, good benefits and to be treated with dignity and respect,” added Figueroa. “You can be sure that this is not the last time you will see us. We are not going away after this. We will continue to fight for these workers.”
Everyone arrested was taken to the nearby 115th Precinct, issued summonses and released.
Last month, hundreds of contracted area airport workers delivered a signed petition to Port Authority headquarters on Park Avenue South demanding better wages, benefits and paid sick days and holidays. They asked for a gesture from the Port Authority that showed that their suggestions were being taken seriously.
The gesture, according to Lenora McKeever, an ID checker for PrimeFlight at LaGuardia, wasn’t taken seriously.
“We are fighting for our very lives out here,” said McKeever. “I spend so much time in housing court, trying to keep from being evicted. It’s a struggle just to keep a roof over my head.” McKeever has never received a raise in her nine years as an employee at the airport. She’s only received pay decreases.