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Hundreds protest at JFK for better pay, benefits for inflight catering workers

More than 50 people were arrested Tuesday while hundreds protested at John F. Kennedy International Airport on behalf of catering workers demanding better pay and benefits for preparing and packing  inflight food, authorities said.

An official with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said in e-mails that the 50 demonstrators arrested were issued summonses for disorderly conduct and more than 500 people protested.

Alyssia Osorio, a spokeswoman for Unite Here union, said 800 people took part in the two-hour demonstration Tuesday at JFK's terminal 8, which is where American Airlines is stationed.

The union represents nearly 1,500 caterers who work with subcontractors LSG SKY Chefs and Gate Gourmet at JFK.

Osorio said part of the protest was a 10-minute “die-in” in which participants lay on the ground inside the terminal, a demonstration meant to represent the life-and-death plight of caterers who need higher pay and better medical coverage.

“We wanted American Airlines to hear us,” Osorio said. “This is one of the busiest days. We wanted the customers to hear us.”

According to a statement by the union posted on its website, Tuesday’s protest at JFKwas part of nationwide demonstrations on behalf of caterering workers at major airports  during one of the busiest travel days of the year, officials said. The protests took part in 17 cities throughout the country, including some key American, Delta and United Airlines hubs, officials said in the statement.

The union said the workers  prepare and pack food for passengers on American   and other major U.S. airlines. Officials also said one in four who provide food and drinks to American Airlines at its hubs earn less than $12 per hour, officials said.

Representatives with American Airlines, LSG Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet could not be reached Tuesday night.

Other major airports targeted in protests Tuesday were in Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia and San Francisco, the statement said.

“We’re out here protesting across the country because we’re sick and tired of being the lowest-paid and worst-treated workers in the airline industry,” Nadia Small, a catering worker, said in the statement. She has worked flights out of JFK for the past six years, officials said.

Small continued: “If this Thanksgiving is hard for travelers, think about our hardship. It’s life and death. Many of us don’t have any health insurance, or we take an expensive, low-quality plan that leaves us struggling with medical debt.”

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