Moises Rodriguez calmed one angry traveler after another on Wednesday afternoon as his airport shuttle company all but shut down because of a protest for LAX service workers.
Police closed Century Boulevard between Airport and Sepulveda boulevards for thousands of union marchers to make a stand against what they called threats to the health care benefits of contract workers at Los Angeles International Airport. They cheered and carried signs in an hourlong, half-mile pilgrimage that ended in a planned show of civil disobedience when a dozen protesters sat down in the middle of Sepulveda Boulevard.
The procession halted traffic in and out of the airport on one of the busiest travel days of the year from noon to 2 p.m. More than 100 LAPD officers, fire officials, airport police and 16 equestrian units oversaw the permitted protest.
"We can't get shuttle buses into the airport or out," Rodriguez said after one traveler cursed at him. "People think we are genies and we can get blink an eye and get them on the plane."
Frustrated travelers were forced to park about a mile from the airport and walk in with their luggage around throngs of excited protesters.
"I don't think the protesters are making any friends," David Britton said as he walked down Century with his rollaway luggage bag, hoping to make his flight to Dallas.
Twelve people were arrested on the misdemeanor charge of refusing to disperse after they sat down in a line at the intersection of Sepulveda and Century boulevards about 1 p.m. One other man was arrested after he repeatedly pushed a police officer, said Los Angeles Police Department Cmdr. Andrew Smith.
Most of the crowd was made up of representatives from Service Employees International Union 1877 and Good Jobs LA. Some airport employees joined the crowd, along with various other union supporters.
The march was a show of solidarity against airport contractor Aviation Safeguards, which no longer has SEIU contracts.
SEIU represents wheelchair attendants, skycaps, janitors, security guards and other LAX service workers. SEIU supporters said the union offers better health benefits than Aviation Safeguards.
Fanny Fuentes, a wheelchair attendant, said her children and husband might not be able to remain on her health care plan if her benefits change.
"My kids and my husband depend on my health care," she said. "I don't want Aviation Safeguards to be an example. So far we haven't been heard so we had no other choice than to come to the streets.
Marchers chanted into megaphones: "I'm fired up! Can't take it no more!" and "We are the 99 percent!"
As traffic backed up on surrounding blocks, drivers shared their frustration. Steven Koller, a US Airways flight attendant, worried he would miss his 12:45 p.m. flight.
"I wish they would have notified us," he said, sitting in stopped traffic. "But obviously it's an organized demonstration, and they have a right to do this."
On the civil disobedience line, Jaime Soto, a member of the Los Angeles College Faculty Guild, sat waiting to be arrested by LAPD officers.
"I'm in support of airline workers," he said. "We stand in solidarity with members of other unions to protect our health care and living wages."
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