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Elected officials arrested at MLK LaGuardia protest

Rep. Charles Rangel joined elected leaders and hundreds

Rep. Charles Rangel joined elected leaders and hundreds of airport workers to call for increased benefits and wages for airport workers during a demonstration and march outside LaGuardia Airport. (Jan. 20, 2014) Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Rep. Charles Rangel and a roster of other New York City elected officials were arrested Monday as they protested outside LaGuardia Airport demanding higher wages and paid holidays for airport workers.

Hundreds of members of the Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ marched across the 94th Street and Ditmars Boulevard bridge leading to LaGuardia rallying for Martin Luther King Jr. Day to serve as a paid holiday. Union officials said many airport contract workers, from security guards to those who clean inside airplanes, receive minimum wage with no paid sick days or vacation time.

"I'm ready to get put in jail today so that everyone will know that we're going to fight for decent wages, we're going to fight for sick pay [and] we're going to fight for pensions," Rangel (D-Harlem) told the crowd of workers in a speech before the march.

Nine members of the New York City Council also were arrested: Ydanis Rodriguez, Mark Levine, Jimmy Van Bramer, Inez Dickens, Carlos Menchaca, Ritchie Torres, I. Daneek Miller, Ruben Wills and Antonio Reynoso.

NYPD officials on the scene said they arrested 30 protesters on disorderly conduct charges after they sat down and refused to leave the roadway. Those arrested included Assemb. Keith L.T. Wright (D-Harlem) and union president Héctor J. Figueroa.

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, while not among those arrested, addressed the crowd, saying "The City Council stands united to support you."

Public Advocate Letitia James blasted airport contractors for paying wages that she said led to "too many airport workers relying on public assistance." She called on the Port Authority, which operates LaGuardia and Kennedy Airport, to intervene on behalf of the workers and "do the right thing or else there will be consequences."

In an email statement, Port Authority officials said the agency "supports making Martin Luther King Day a paid holiday for airport workers" and planned to "continue to have discussions with the union, airlines, and other airport stakeholders regarding this issue."

Prince Jackson, 56, of Jamaica, Queens, said he works as a security guard at Kennedy Airport, making $8 an hour, but has not received a raise in four years and is not entitled to paid sick time.

"Martin Luther King Jr. was a friend to the workers in his day, and the workers of today would like to be able to commemorate his memory by fighting for our rights as employees," Jackson said.

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