Just as the Thanksgiving travel period kicked into high gear, a labor protest prompted rolling street closures today near Los Angeles International Airport, adding to headaches for travelers and resulting in more than a dozen arrests.
The protest by unionized caterers with LSG Sky Chefs and its subsidiary Gate Gourmet, which contracts with American Airlines and other carriers, was part of a nationwide series of job actions at airports calling for higher wages and improved health-care options.
Officials with the Unite Here union said the protests could be the largest demonstration of workers at U.S. airports in years.
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Protesters began gathering at about 5 p.m. near Airport and Century boulevards, and a short time later, dozens of union members and their supporters began marching west on Century Boulevard toward LAX. With police escorting the group, a stretch of westbound Century Boulevard was closed to traffic as the group -- chanting and waving signs -- made its way toward Sepulveda Boulevard.
Sixteen protesters were arrested on suspicion of failure to disperse, according to the Los Angeles Police Department, which reported the protest ended just after 7 p.m.
Sepulveda Boulevard was briefly closed in both directions as the group crossed the street en route to the airport terminal area.
According to Unite Here, one in four workers with LSG Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet earn less than $12 per hour, including people who have worked for them for more than a decade. The union also contends that 33% of workers at LSG Sky Chefs at LAX had company healthcare in 2018, and 10% of that insurance covered dependents.
The company issued a statement in response saying, "Our negotiating team and a federal mediator have been working since May 2019 to negotiate in good faith with the union representing our employees. While this is a short period of time to negotiate a complex labor agreement, we feel progress is being made with the help of the federal mediator. We remain committed to negotiating in good faith."
American Airlines also provided a statement saying the carrier is "confident" in the negotiations, but it ultimately has no control over the labor talks.