LOS ANGELES – A labor dispute at America’s third busiest airport turned what was already a bad travel day into a nightmare for some travelers.
One of the nation’s biggest unions snarled traffic as it tried to block two entrances into the Los Angeles International airport Wednesday, in a protest police feared would turn the streets outside into a parking lot at a time when tens of thousands of cars are pouring into the airport.
The Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, claims a company that employs 450 sky caps, cabin cleaners and security workers at LAX illegally broke a contract and is in violation of the city’s living wage ordinance.
That company, Aviation Safeguards, claims that’s inaccurate, saying 52 percent of its workers voted to decertify the SEIU. It also says employee pay has increased by more than $2 million since workers kicked the union out to compensate for changes in their health care policies.
In protest, and with five additional LAX contracts expiring at the end of November, SEIU chose the busiest travel day of the year to bring attention to its cause. “We understand the inconvenience, but workers here are making the decisions of life," spokesman Ernesto Guerrero said.
“Airport workers, they serve the public,” he told Fox News on Wednesday morning outside LAX Terminal 4. “They are very proud about their job. Unfortunately, they are being forced to do these extreme measures because otherwise no one is listening to them. The airport is not listening to them. The mayor of the city is not listening to them. We are being forced to take these extreme actions.”
The protest began in the afternoon, and police arranged traffic diversions to keep travelers moving, even if roads were blocked. But some people ended up in backups and were delayed as they tried to make their flights, a police commander told the Associated Press.
Airlines reported no major issues with passengers missing flights because of the protest, a LAX spokeswoman said. Thirteen people were arrested in the protest, including a dozen who sat down in the street and disobeyed a dispersal order, the Associated Press reports.
The union planned to bus in roughly a 1,000 union members to march down Century Boulevard, the main entrance into LAX, and Sepulveda Boulevard, the entrance used by motorists coming north from the beach cities and Orange County. An estimated 1.7 million are expected to use LAX over the Thanksgiving holiday.
While the union's action did bring attention to its cause, as dozens of local radio and TV vans converged on the airport to cover the event, it also could backfire, according to the company the union accuses of breaking a contract.
“There is no dispute from our perspective. Our employees voted by a large majority to decertify from the SEIU,” Aviation Safeguard Vice President Joe Conlon said. “It is voluntary process to join a union. And it is voluntary process to not be part of a union. Our employees in a majority voted they did not want to be part of the SEIU anymore. So we don’t have a dispute. Our employees are happy with the wages and benefits they receive.”