Ted Chen, Dennis Lahti, Jose Hernandez
Airport workers blocked parts of Century and Sepulveda boulevards near LAX on Wednesday during a rally against what they say are unfair labor practices by an airport contractor that provides passenger services such as baggage handling and ticket verification. Ted Chen reports from LAX for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Nov. 21, 2012.
Travelers headed to LAX on Wednesday afternoon – one of the airport's busiest days of the year – saw hundreds of purple-clad union workers lining Century Boulevard.
Airport officials had warned passengers to arrive well more than the advised two hours ahead of time because of expected traffic delays caused by a march organized by a local branch of the Service Employees International Union.
A spokeswoman for LAX said traffic flow was returning to normal after 2 p.m. and there had been no reports of flight delays or passengers missing departures.
Thirteen protesters who sat in the roadway were arrested, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.
The workers were protesting what they say are unfair labor practices by an airport contractor that provides passenger services such as baggage handling and ticket verification.
A march was scheduled from noon to 2 p.m., resulting in the phased closures of westbound Century Boulevard between Airport and Sepulveda boulevards, and northbound Sepulveda between Imperial Highway and 98th Street. Early arrival for travelers was suggested between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Police on horseback and foot accompanied the marchers. Protesters stopped at the Century and Sepulveda boulevards, where police made pre-arranged arrests after issuing an order to disperse.
The protest comes after about 400 workers for Aviation Safeguards at Los Angeles International Airport were left without a contract earlier this year and no longer have health insurance, according to SEIU, which represents janitors, wheelchair attendants, skycaps, security guards.
"They just walked away from the contract, leaving the workers without health care, without protection of a contract," said SEIU representative Ernesto Guerrero.
The event, dubbed the Century Progress March, was announced last Friday.
On Tuesday, Aviation Services went on the offensive, reaching out to media and saying its workers were not part of the march.
The company, a unit of Command Security Corp. of Parsippany, N.J., released a statement signed by its workers saying they voted to end their affiliation with SEIU.
"We have no beef with the company or the airport. Our beef is with the union. Most of the protesters on Wednesday will not even be LAX workers. They don’t work here and they don’t know our company," said Andres Cazares, an Aviation Safeguards employee since 1993, in a statement. "The employees of Aviation Safeguards are planning to work, and we are extremely confident that our colleagues will be there for every shift."
Company Regional Vice President Joe Conlon said in the statement that employees were "free to rejoin SEIU at any time."
Conlin told NBC4 the company's employees were free to participate in Wednesday's action, but said only three Aviation Safeguards workers had participated in the most recent protest.
While airport officials had advised people to arrive two hours in advance of domestic flights and three hours before international flights, they suggested that people driving to LAX between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. add about 90 minutes to their travel time.
More than 1.792 million passengers -- a 0.3 percent increase over last year -- are expected to pass through LAX over the Thanksgiving holiday travel period, which began last Friday and ends Monday, airport officials said. LAX is expected to be second only to Chicago-O'Hare International Airport in passenger volume.