Airline catering workers sat in nonviolent protest, blocking two lanes in front of a Reagan National Airport terminal causing significant bumper-to-bumper traffic Tuesday evening.
The upper level of Reagan Airport was closed while police officers redirected traffic leading to the ramp on one of the busiest travel days of the year.
Eventually, the protesters engaging in the “civil rights style civil disobedience sit-in” were arrested among chants of support from fellow picketers.
With arms cuffed behind their backs, 12 to 20 individuals were escorted away from the commotion, and then into the airport.
Those arrested, who situated themselves in front of Terminal C, were “calling on American Airlines to take urgent and necessary steps to ensure that [the] workers who cater its flights are able to escape poverty and have access to affordable health care,” according to a press release.
The protesters are a part of a labor union called Unite Here!, representing roughly 300,000 workers across the United States and Canada, according to the organization’s website.
Workers and supporters linked to Unite Here! did similar demonstrations at seven different airports across the country today: Dallas-Ft. Worth, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, Philadelphia, NYC-JFK and Washington DC-DCA.
“All we’re asking for is economic justice,” said Tony Copper, a bartender at the Baltimore Convention Center. “These are working people. They just want to live with integrity and respect which is what we should already be giving our American citizens. This is not how we should treat them [those arrested] when they stand up for a righteous cause.”
Those participating in the “sit-in” knew they would be arrested for disrupting traffic flow, according to an email from Unite Here!’s Communications Specialist, Meghan Cohorst.
The email, which was sent at 10:37 a.m. to labor union members, said:
“Workers and supporters at 7 airports will take arrest after participating in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience.”
Despite the risk, the protesters felt nonviolent demonstration was an effective way to get their message across.
A spokesperson for Unite Here!, who wished to remain anonymous, said they would most likely not go to jail but would receive class four misdemeanors.
Although this is the less severe of all misdemeanors, it tends to be added to one’s criminal record and can carry up to a $250 fine.
“They can’t afford to take care of their kids,” Copper said. “They work here. They take care of hospitality and catering services. They feed you. And all they ask for is fair pay, fair wages, health care, which our leaders of our nation are supposed to be working on, but as you can see, we’re still out here battling.”
Airline catering workers have wages averaging $12.15 an hour.
In 2018, only 32% of workers at LSG Sky Chefs at DCA had company health care, according to a Unite Here! fact sheet. In 2018, American Airlines reported an annual profit of $1.9 billion, according to its website.
“The days before Thanksgiving are historically busy travel days,” Cohorst’s email said. “Protesters will be at airports because we want to reach as many people with our message as possible. We can reach more passengers when it is busy than when it is slow.”