Dozens were arrested in the demonstration, including Manhattan council members Corey Johnson and Mark Levine and Harlem Assemblyman Keith Wright.
The rally continued the call for a $15 an hour minimum wage, extended benefits and a right to unionize for airport workers. Led by 32BJ, the largest service employees union, the protest was part of a nine-city civil disobedience action.
Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ, said Dr. Martin Luther King demanded a $2 minimum wage when he marched on Washington in 1963. Adjusted for inflation, that would roughly be $15.51 per hour today.
“This is how we celebrate the birthday of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, we celebrate by taking a stand,” Figueroa said. “He would be 87 years old today. We are fighting for what Dr. King fought for in 1963.”
This demonstration came two months after the union led a multi-city Thanksgiving fast for higher wages and more benefits.
Many elected officials braved the cold to support the cause. Huddled together before taking turns to speak, City Council members fired up rally supporters.
“Too many times we’ve been right here on Ditmars Boulevard asking for what is justly ours,” said Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland. “And that is to raise our families, to be able to feed our families and pay our rent without having to think twice.”
Many spoke of their ties to unions. Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer said he was raised by a 32BJ member.
“I know how important the work is that every single worker does,” Van Bramer said. “Every single worker is entitled to a living wage, to justice.”
State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky joined the call for a higher minimum wage. She said she was there to rally for economic justice.
“During the bus and lunch counter demonstrations and boycotts, he said what good is it to have a seat at the lunch counter and you can’t afford a hamburger?” Stavisky said, referring to Dr. King. “What good is it if you have a job but it doesn’t pay the rent, it doesn’t put food on the table and it doesn’t take care of your family?”
Figueroa said the airline industry is making money “like bandits,” and is showing record profits. That’s why, he said, workers should not be making what he called “poverty wages.”
“It is a shame, a real shame, that we face this situation as workers, when the job that airport workers do is to protect, to maintain our airports all around the country,” Figueroa said. “We do our job. We call on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to do their job and pay workers a decent wage. They have the power to do it.”
After speaking, demonstrators marched across the bridge to LaGuardia Airport’s terminal entrance, where they blocked traffic. Police officers immediately arrested some participants, while the rest cheered them on from the sidewalk.
Governor Andrew Cuomo wrote in a Daily News op-ed that he supported a $15 minimum wage for airport workers. Figueroa responded by saying he was encouraged by the governor’s support.
Joshua Yanapa, a security agent at LaGuardia Airport, was among the many supporters at Monday’s rally. He said he made a living wage, but he came to support his fellow workers.
“The wages are stagnant, they’re not moving,” Yanapa said. “I came to support the $15 an hour for every New Yorker that lives here in New York City.”
He said he speaks to many people who have financial issues, including paying rent and paying for food at the grocery store.
“It’s just not fair for people that make unfair wages, because they are not less valuable than I am,” he said. “We all deserve to make decent wages so we can survive in this city.”