LOS ANGELES, Calif.--On one of the busiest travel days of the year, thousands of workers descended today on Century Boulevard--the primary route to Los Angeles International Airport--to protest what their union called unfair labor practices by an airport contractor.
With most wearing purple shirts and some toting signs, the union workers gathered at Century and Airport boulevards and then marched west on Century toward Sepulveda Boulevard, under the close watch of police and media.
The union contends that about 400 airport workers were left without a contract earlier this year when Aviation Safeguards, a unit of Command Security Corp. of Parsippany, N.J., terminated agreements with the Service Employees International Union and withdrew all health insurance.
"By allowing the situation to continue, LAX is punishing the good contractors who play by the rules," according to Mike Garcia, president of SEIU United Service Workers West. "Things at the airport have gotten out of control, and workers are ready to take action."
SEIU represents janitors, wheelchair attendants, skycaps, security guards and other service workers at LAX. Aviation Safeguards workers, however, said they voted to end their affiliation with SEIU and contended that the planned march was a pointless effort.
"We petitioned to leave the SEIU almost a year ago, and the contract ended," Frederick McNeil of Aviation Safeguards said. "And now they're bringing in outsiders to block travelers who are just trying to get home for the holidays. It's ridiculous. People need to understand that SEIU doesn't speak for the employees at Aviation Safeguards."
Andres Cazares, an Aviation Safeguards employee since 1993, said most of the marchers "will not even be LAX workers. They don't work here and they don't know our company."
Aviation Safeguards worker Edgar Rivas told KCAL9 the union has been intimidating employees to rejoin the union, and noted that he has a better health-care plan now that he had with SEIU.
Rep. Janice Hahn, D-San Pedro, insisted that the actions by Aviation Safeguards posed a threat to other airport workers.
"This is really the perfect time to bring awareness to the issue of health care for these families," Hahn said. "This is the time to say while we're rushing to catch our planes, we're rushing to (be with) our families, there are families that keep this airport running. ... This maneuver, while technically legal, will result in a loss of health care for hundreds of LAX workers and their families."
LAX officials advised people heading to the airport to expect a longer-than-usual drive because of the march. They suggested that people driving to LAX between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. add about 90 minutes to their travel time.
The march resulted in phased closures of westbound Century Boulevard between Airport and Sepulveda boulevards, and northbound Sepulveda between Imperial Highway and 98th Street.
All entrances to the airport's Central Terminal Area were expected to remain open.
More than 1.792 million passengers--an 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.
Volunteers wearing red vests were roaming LAX terminals today and again Sunday to assist travelers.