ARLINGTON, Va. — On one of the busiest travel days of the year, American Airlines catering workers held sit-in protests at Reagan National Airport demanding higher pay and better access to healthcare.
According to Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), 12 individuals were arrested and released on summons for "violating Airport Regulation 9.5, a Class 4 misdemeanor."
MWAA Spokeswoman Christina Saull said the issue occurred when protesters entered the street and blocked traffic outside the B/C terminal, which was a violation of the permit issued by the airport. Saull said the roadway was limited to one lane for 17 minutes, before the traffic flow returned to normal.
The demonstration was led by UNITE HERE Local 23, a labor union founded in 2009, and protests were planned on Tuesday at 17 airports across the country. UNITE HERE said the protest was the "largest worker-led demonstration at U.S. airports in years."
UNITE HERE said current wages for airline catering workers at U.S. airports are as low as $12.15 an hour. MWAA passed a workers wage policy in 2017 stating the Board would review the policy no later than Dec. 31, 2019. There is currently a raise slated for Jan. 1, 2020 that would raise wages to $12.75 an hour. Minimum wage in D.C., which is currently $14 an hour, rises to $15 an hour on July 1, 2020.
The protest organizers also said that only 32% of workers at LSG Sky Chefs at DCA had company healthcare in 2018.
"Right now, I am not getting a surgery I need because I cannot afford it," Nelson Robinson, an airline catering worker at DCA, said. "As a diabetic, I’m nervous about my health. I’ve worked hard to lose 120 pounds. American Airlines is making billions in profits, but after working in the airline industry for 20 years, I still have to skip medical care because I can’t afford it."
Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders quote tweeted UNITE HERE, promising that when he was in the White House he would "take on corporate greed and ensure all workers have a living wage and the right to join a union."
UNITE HERE Local 23 was originally founded to support approximately 4,000 airline workers, and in 10 years membership has grown to more than 20,000 workers.
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