Marc Goumbri,, 202.340.8614

Issued January 18, 2016

Dozens arrested at airport workers’ MLK Day national civil disobedience

Security officers, cabin and terminal cleaners, wheelchair attendants, baggage handlers and allies honor Dr. King’s legacy by risking arrest, taking stand against injustices and inequality at our nation’s airports

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Dozens of contracted airport workers and allies were arrested today at demonstrations in cities including New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Newark, NJ, Washington, DC, Portland, Ore., Seattle, Chicago and Miami as part of a national airport workers’ civil disobedience against the injustices and inequality that persist at airports across the country. The men and women who keep our airports running took action today to commemorate MLK Day and to reclaim the dignity that should come with a hard day’s work, a central tenet of Dr. King’s vision for a just society.

“It's frustrating to have to live with my own son and rely on food stamps and public assistance,” said Valentine Hough, a mother of five from Washington, DC, who works up to 36 hours a week as an overnight cabin cleaner, cleaning and searching the planes at $8.50/hr at Washington National Airport. “I work hard, yet I can barely afford transportation to my job or care for my kids and grandchildren.”

Workers, like Ms. Hough, and their allies who risked arrest across the country today are calling for change in the hopeful and visionary spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and are committed to doing whatever it takes to win at least $15 and union rights for every airport worker.

Like the striking Memphis, Tenn., sanitation workers who took action nearly fifty years ago, and with whom Dr. King stood at the end of his life, airport workers face inhuman conditions at work and the daily humiliations of poverty.

Despite helping to generate $8 billion dollars in profits for the aviation industry, contracted airport workers are still paid so little that they can’t make ends meet, forcing many of them to rely on public assistance for their basic needs in spite of working full-time jobs.

“I work at O’Hare Airport alongside my aunt and grandma, and we all make minimum wage” said Raquel Brito who handles luggage.  “We’re sick of struggling to make ends meet. We’re tired of paying out-of-pocket for health care. The airlines and their contractors need to take responsibility and stand up for good wages at O’Hare so working people like me can build a future for our families.”

The crisis that contracted airport workers face is created and maintained by an aviation industry that continues to drive down wages and quality of service by outsourcing jobs to often-irresponsible contractors. This low-road business model has resulted in a system where bottom feeder contractors have taken over the market at the expense of the hardworking men and women who care for hundreds of millions of passengers each year. As a result, airports have become a locus of low-wages, exploitation, unfairness and inequality instead of economic drivers and generators of good jobs.

In Seattle, baggage handlers and ramp workers employed by Menzies Aviation at Sea-Tac International Airport went on strike today to protest against unfair labor practices—including intimidation, threats, and harassment— by their employer. Menzies is a contractor providing services for Alaska Airlines and other airlines at Sea-Tac.

“I believe that joining together with other workers around the country to take action today is getting the message across to the whole country that all airport workers, not just at Sea-Tac, face serious problems,” said Darius Harris, a Lead Ramp Service Agent who has worked for Menzies for more than two years. “Everyday we show up to do our part and help passengers get to their destination safely but our employers treat us poorly and that's not right.”

Today’s commemoration of Dr. King’s legacy comes in the wake of the first-ever national strikes at seven of the country’s busiest hubs in November and a nationwide Thanksgiving fast, when baggage handlers, terminal cleaners, cabin cleaners, skycaps, wheelchair agents, customer service agents, terminal security officers and ramp workers brought national attention to the crisis at our airports. 

Around the country, contracted airport workers are coming together in Airport Workers United, a movement of workers and their allies, raising their voices for $15 and union rights to make our airports safe and secure for passengers, employees and our communities. By sticking together, speaking out for change, and going on strike, these workers have won wage increases in Los Angeles, New York City, Newark, Minneapolis, Boston, Philadelphia, and Fort Lauderdale. Today, more than 70,000 workers nationwide have either received wages increases or other improvements, including healthcare, paid sick leave and worker retention policies as a result of the workers’ campaign.