KTLA News/Los Angeles Times
7:04 AM CST, November 22, 2012
LOS ANGELES (KTLA) -- A labor protest by as many as 1,500 workers at Los Angeles International Airport Wednesday led to several arrests and caused delays for holiday travelers.
The protesters, carrying signs that read "Living Wage & Affordable Health Care," filled one side of Century Boulevard near the entrance to the airport for a briefly disruptive, but mostly permitted, walk and rally.
Police arrested about a dozen activists who sat down in the middle of the intersection at Sepulveda and Century boulevards and refused to disperse.
Among those arrested, according to organizers, were L.A. City Council candidates Ana Grande, Ana Cubas and Ron Gochez.
The 12 were arrested on a misdemeanor charge, LAPD Cmdr. Andy Smith said. It was expected that they'd be booked and then released on their own recognizance.
Smith said another man was also arrested on suspicion of disobeying police orders because the man "kept pushing back, pushing back against our officers."
Mary Grady, a spokesperson for LAX, said the demonstration caused "some congestion initially.... [But] once we started rerouting people, it started to get moving."
Grady said some employee buses had to be diverted and were 20 minutes behind schedule, but there weren't any reports of flight delays or anyone missing their flights due to the protest.
The protest was organized by the Service Employees International Union, which represents LAX workers.
Union officials and their supporters have repeatedly demonstrated at LAX to protest working conditions and what they consider improper conduct by Aviation Safeguards.
The airport contractor has 450 employees who work as security personnel, skycaps, baggage handlers and wheelchair assistants for more than 50 airlines at LAX.
Company officials said that in December 2011, a majority of the firm's employees exercised their legal right to reject the SEIU as their union.
SEIU alleges that Aviation Safeguards ignored proper procedure for decertifying representation and coerced its employees to vote against the union.
But there have been no findings by government oversight agencies that support the accusations.
Union officials also say the company is denying affordable healthcare to its workers and has violated the city's living wage ordinance because it gave workers a choice to take insurance or a higher wage.
Joe Conlon, a regional vice president for Aviation Safeguards, said that the firm has a different interpretation of the Los Angeles living wage ordinance.
But, he said, the company agreed to obey a city determination that employers can't give workers a choice to take insurance or more pay even if the worker has other medical coverage.
Last month, the SEIU demanded that Los Angeles World Airports, which operates LAX, revoke Aviation Safeguards' five-year agreement to operate at the airport.
The company has about four years to go on the license, which can be canceled without cause by either party.
So far, the city's Board of Airport Commissioners has not terminated the agreement.
Wednesday's action might also have been a strategic show of strength by the union.
Its labor contracts with five airline service companies are set to expire for about 2,000 workers at LAX, including cabin cleaners, wheelchair assistants, janitors, cargo workers and baggage handlers.