Airport workers, others to protest on Martin Luther King birthday

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 15, 2015 12:22 PM

By Sebastien Malo

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Scores of airport workers gathered to rally on Thursday in New York and other cities to demand higher wages in one of several protests planned by an array of interest groups to mark the birthday of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

The service workers plan to crowd onto a street bridge to block vehicular traffic in and out of New York's LaGuardia Airport, union organizers said. Similar protests are planned at airports in Philadelphia, Boston and Fort Lauderdale in Florida, organizers said.

Last year, police arrested about 30 protesters after hundreds sat on the LaGuardia bridge in a similar action to recognize King.

"If Martin Luther King were alive today he would be standing with airport workers, as he did in 1968 with striking sanitation workers in Memphis," the Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union said in a statement.

All told, some 12,000 service workers, most of them employed by subcontractors, have jobs at the city's three major metropolitan airports, organizers said. They clean planes and buildings, handle baggage and provide security, among other jobs. Most of them earn $9 per hour, according to Amity Paye, a union spokeswoman. The minimum wage in New York is $8.75 an hour for most jobs.

Other groups are also marking the birthday of King, who is celebrated for advocating peaceful civil disobedience to advance civil rights and who was killed by an assassin in 1968.

Later on Thursday, a rally is planned for outside New York City's police headquarters and at Grand Central Terminal by protesters angered by several recent killings of unarmed black men by white police officers during controversial encounters.

Earlier, about 29 protesters were arrested in Massachusetts after they stopped traffic on a highway into Boston during the morning rush hour, officials said. Another six people who chained themselves to concrete barrels on the roadway south of the city also faced arrest, they said.

(Additional reporting by Scott Malone in Boston; Writing by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Susan Heavey)