LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Airline catering employees shut down traffic Tuesday near Los Angeles International Airport in a protest for higher wages and improved healthcare options.

Caterers with LSG Sky Chefs and its subsidiary Gate Gourmet, which contracts with American Airlines and other carriers, gathered with other airport workers at Century and Sepulveda boulevards ahead of one of the busiest travel days of the year.

The protest was aimed at “calling on American Airlines to ensure that workers who cater its flights can afford to access medical care and raise their families in Los Angeles.”

Police shut down westbound Century Boulevard at Vicksburg near the entrance to LAX and urged anyone headed to the airport to use alternative routes to access Sepulveda Boulevard. Traffic around the airport began returning to normal around 10 p.m. Tuesday.

An unlawful assembly was declared about an hour later with Los Angeles police arresting 16 protesters just outside of the airport at the rally following the march.

Unite Here said that one in four workers with LSG Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet earn less than $12 per hour, including people who have worked for the companies for more than a decade. The union also said that 33% of workers at LSG Sky Chefs and LAX had company healthcare in 2018 and 10% of that insurance covered dependents.

The company issued a statement in response:

“Our negotiating team and a federal mediator have been working since May 2019 to negotiate in good faith with the union representing our employees. While this is a short period of time to negotiate a complex labor agreement, we feel progress is being made with the help of the federal mediator. We remain committed to negotiating in good faith.”

American Airlines also issued a statement that said the carrier was “confident” in the negotiations, but that it ultimately has no control over the labor talks.

Heath Montgomery, a spokesperson for LAX, said the airport was working closely with its airport police department as well as the Los Angeles Police Department to monitor the situation and prevent any major delays for passengers.

“Of course we’re very concerned at the state of the holiday season,” Montgomery said. “We’re expecting this to be a record travel season. Tuesday and Wednesday are going to be the busiest days with some 240,000 people trying to move in and out of the facility. To have a disruption is certainly concerning.”

That disruption, some protesters said, was the point of the labor action.

“We just want to send a message to American Airlines to sit down with Sky Chefs because we don’t want to wait another year for a new contract — that’s all,” Amparo Ramirez, a Unite Here Local 11 member, said. “We’re here, and we’re going to continue this fight.”

Other cities expected to be affected by the protests include New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, Dallas and Philadelphia.

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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