BY KATELYN DI SALVO
Wendy Arellano, a single mother of two from Corona, holds three jobs to try to make it through the months. She makes $8 an hour working at LaGuardia Airport and has now stood up to make her voice heard.
Arellano, together with close to 1,000 other airport employees, local elected officials and community leaders gathered on Martin Luther King Day at LaGuardia Airport to demand better rights and benefits for airport workers and express the struggle of bringing “dignity, fairness and economic justice to the contracted employees.”
In December, workers presented the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, with petitions signed by more than 2,000 workers at LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy and Newark airports demanding Martin Luther King Day 2014 as a paid holiday. When they did not hear back from the Port Authority the workers and many people involved in the SEIU 32 BJ, a union representing most of the airport workers, they decided to organize Monday’s civil disobedience.
The rally opened with a prayer, and workers shared the stage to tell their stories and hardships.
“Personally I think it’s sad, I work three jobs to get through the months and even years, I don’t think what I make is enough for anyone to get by, and I hope this has gotten to the ears of the Port Authority,” Arellano said.
Juan Chapman who also works for LaGuardia Airport, shared his story as a security guard making $8 an hour and shouted many of his co-workers make less plus zero benefits.
“When people ask me how I live in New York on that salary I don’t have an answer, because there is no way someone can survive making $8 or less an hour,” he said.
Andrew Lloyd, a cabin cleaner at JFK International Airport shared his feelings of anger.
“I have a full time job, and I am on public assistance,” said Lloyd. “I find that to be ridiculous that I am working so hard, working overtime, and I still need public assistance, I have no health insurance, no sick days, no paid vacation days and I’m here to say I’m tired, we need respect.”
Many federal, state and local elected officials and clergy members also joined the rally standing side by side with workers.
“We have to make certain that there is a livable wage for people, no one should be one pay check away from homelessness,” said Congressmember Charles Rangel, who took the stage in support.
Rangel also said he is confident that Mayor Bill de Blasio, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and President Barack Obama will bring equality to these workers.
Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito also announced her support of the fight for equality among workers.
“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,” Mark-Viverito said. “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.”
After the speeches, Hector Figueroa, President of SEIU 32 BJ, led the march to the 94th Street and Ditmars Boulevard bridge leading to LaGuardia Airport.
“We are here to honor Dr. King, and what better way to celebrate his legacy than doing the work of justice for workers that he carried on until he gave his life,” said Figueroa.
As workers marched through the streets they chanted “MLK is our day” as police surrounded them and warned them to clear the streets. Workers and members of SEIU 32 BJ sat down on the street in the middle of the bridge to make their statement clear.
Those arrested were taken to the 115th Precinct, given summonses and released later in the day.
The workers and members of SEIU 32 BJ said they will not stop until “they get respect and equality.”
The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey did not respond to request for comment as of press time.