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26 Activists Arrested During Pro-Union Protest at LAX


Twenty-six labor activists were arrested Wednesday after they blocked a main artery at Los Angeles International Airport for nearly an hour, snarling traffic and stranding dozens of arriving passengers.

The protest was the boldest action yet in a yearlong campaign to unionize baggage screeners and handlers and wheelchair attendants who work for Atlanta-based Argenbright Security Inc., which is under contract to United, Delta and Northwest Airlines. Argenbright employs about 600 workers at the airport, many of whom earn the state minimum wage of $5.75 an hour.

Cheered on by an estimated 400 protesters, the 26 activists sat cross-legged on the asphalt, blocking the lower-level circuit road in front of the United terminal about 1 p.m. Three parking structures were closed during the protest.

A police spokesman said all 26 were released after being cited for failing to disperse and blocking a roadway. Among those arrested were Santa Monica Councilman Paul Rosenstein, former Burbank Councilman Ted McConkey and local leaders from at least eight unions.

Miguel Contreras, executive secretary of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and an airport commissioner, appeared long enough to watch the arrest of his wife, Maria Elena Durazo of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union.

"This is one of our top priorities in the county," Contreras said of the contentious campaign by the Service Employees International Union to sign up the screeners.

Michelle Silagy, an Argenbright human resources manager, said that because few workers have participated in recent demonstrations, the company is not convinced there is majority support for a union. "We're not pro-union or anti-union," she said. "We're pro-employee."

But Blanca Gallegos of SEIU said workers are afraid. "There is an atmosphere of intimidation," she said.

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