After 22 years as a airport Skycap, Luis Andrades makes just $4.40 an hour. Tips are supposed to bring his wage up to the federal minimum, but ever since the imposition of bag fees -- which all go to the airlines -- tips have disappeared, (name) told Union City at noon on Monday as he prepared to march near the Martin Luther King Memorial. “It’s impossible to survive on such low pay,” Andrades said, “That’s why we need a union and $15 an hour.” Hundreds of airport workers and their supporters -- including DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Unite Here Local 25 Exec. Secretary-Treasurer John Boardman and Plymouth United Congregational Church pastor Graylan Hagler -- turned out in the frigid cold for the Martin Luther King Day demonstration, part of a large-scale national civil disobedience action in 10 major cities, including Boston, Chicago, New York City, Newark, Philadelphia, Miami, Seattle, Portland, and Washington, D.C. Sporting purple SEIU knit caps against the icy breeze, the workers protested “the gross injustices and inequality that persist at airports across the country, and are calling for change in the hopeful and visionary spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” said SEIU 32BJ, which is organizing them. “Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, where he had gone to stand with sanitation workers who faced inhumane conditions at work and poverty wages,” said Norton. “I want to carry on the King legacy by standing with airport workers, from baggage handlers to cabin cleaners, fuelers to security officers, whose jobs have been contracted out to companies paying shamefully low wages.” On their march to block traffic on Kutz Bridge, the demonstrators, chanting "When we fight, we win!" stopped at the MLK memorial to sing “We Shall Overcome” as visiting tourists cheered them on and joined in the singing.
- report/photos by Chris Garlock