About 600 demonstrators - many of whom don't work at Los Angeles International Airport - marched past travelers and terminals on Thursday, alleging unsafe working conditions and unfair labor practices by the private companies that hire airline service workers.
No arrests were reported at LAX as dozens of airport police officers stood by to make sure the crowd remained peaceful and did not get in the way of passengers making their way through the nation's third-busiest airport.
Only a smattering of skycaps, wheelchair attendants, security guards and other service workers were part of the massive demonstration, which primarily consisted of unionized janitors and members of the pro-labor group Good Jobs L.A.
"The contractors abuse us by cutting benefits, pay and hours from us and we are intimidated by our supervisors," said Joe Orellana of Inglewood, an employee of Menzies Aviation, which contracts with Qantas, Cathay Pacific and several other international airlines at LAX.
"They give us more work to do, but pay us less by cutting our hours," Orellana said. "They tell me if I don't like it then I can leave, but I have a family and children to support."
Baggage and cargo handler Jonathan Navarro said he got into an accident during a rainy day six months ago because the windshield wipers weren't working on his company's freight truck.
"We have a lot of safety issues because the equipment is always breaking down," said Navarro, a Los Angeles resident working for Swissport USA, which contracts with All Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines, El Al and other overseas carriers.
While the march was directed toward several nonunion service companies, most of the attention was focused on Aviation Safeguards, which contracts with United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and Alaska Airlines and others.
The company terminated a labor contract at the start of the new year with Service Employees International Union Local 1877, which represents about 575 service workers at LAX.
Representatives from Aviation Safeguards did not return a phone call seeking comment. Earlier this month, company executives told the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners that the employees voted to terminate the labor contract, which was due to expire at the end of this year.
The move led to higher wages and allowed workers to choose their own health care plans, company representatives told the airport commission.
Union officials disputed that, saying employees are working fewer hours, which leads to lower wages.
"There's never been any official process that Aviation Safeguards engaged in to give their workers a voice as to whether they wanted a union or not," said Alejandra Valles, vice president of the SEIU United Service Workers West.
"They just walked away and claimed the workers don't want the union, but to this day they have not engaged in any process to lay proof to that claim," Valles said. "This needs to be brought to the passengers because they need to be told about how this company violated its obligations to their workers."
Earlier this month, LAX officials launched an audit to determine whether Aviation Safeguards is paying the city-mandated living wage to its employees.
In September 2009, the Los Angeles City Council updated its "living-wage ordinance" at LAX, which calls for paying airport service workers $10 per hour if health insurance is provided, or $14.50 per hour if insurance is not provided.
Additionally, airport staffers are still drafting a policy aimed at improving contract oversight and training standards for the private companies that hire passenger service workers.
More than 200 companies hire service workers for the airlines operating at LAX, but airport officials said nearly three years ago that the new policy could narrow the pool significantly.
Follow Art Marroquin on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/newsvato