Airline Strike Imminent for Catering Workers

Catering workers represented by UNITE HERE have authorized strikes in major airline hubs across the country.

Add food and beverage on flights to the list of potential disruptions for upcoming air travelers. UNITE HERE airline catering workers in 13 cities recently voted in favor of authorizing a strike if and when released to do so by the National Mediation Board. The National Mediation Board must approve any strike request by airport and airline employees, a process that can take months.

The strike votes were unanimous or nearly unanimous in each city. These catering workers are subcontractors responsible for providing food and beverage service for American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines at airports across the country.

Over the past week, votes occurred in Boston, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Seattle, San Francisco, Tampa, and Washington, DC. Eight more cities will take strike votes over the course of this week.

UNITE HERE is negotiating on behalf of some 3,270 Gate Gourmet employees and 7,679 LSG Sky Chefs employees that service flights for the three carriers at major hubs. LSG Sky Chefs is the largest airline catering subcontractor in the US, and Gate Gourmet, the second largest airline catering subcontractor in the US.

The union is also in talks with United on behalf of 2,600 food workers directly employed by the airline and currently not covered by a contract.

The votes call attention to the growing crisis around airline catering workers’ healthcare and wages, according to UNITE HERE Local 2. UNITE HERE Local 2 is the hospitality workers’ union and represents 13,000 members working in the hotel, food service, and airport industries in San Francisco and San Mateo counties, including 2,100 airline workers at San Francisco International Airport (SFO).

According to the UNITE HERE Local 2, American Airlines, Delta, and United made over $50 billion in combined profits in the last five years alone, but workers who prepare and load food and beverages onto their planes are often living in poverty and unable to afford healthcare. Hourly pay at LSG Sky Chefs can be as low as $9 an hour and nearly half of employees make $11.35 an hour or less, according to UNITE HERE.

“Across the country, this week UNITE HERE airline catering workers stood up strong and decided that they were unwilling to continue to accept poverty wages, to rely on government assistance because their employer healthcare is so bad, and to work as much overtime as possible just in the hopes they don’t end up homeless,” said D. Taylor, International President of UNITE HERE, in a press release. “American, Delta, and United Airlines are making record profits and have a fundamental responsibility to ensure that our members who do the work it takes to get their planes to takeoff aren’t left living in poverty. We hope the strength of these votes sends a clear message to the industry that job conditions must change, and are a clear indication that UNITE HERE will strive by all means necessary under law to make one job enough for airline catering workers.”

UNITE HERE Local 2 said airline catering workers at SFO are prepared to strike whenever they are released to do so. The workers voted by 99.8 percent in favor of authorizing a strike when released by the National Mediation Board. The union members are planning informational picketing at SFO on June 21 and nationwide on July 3.

“I prepare food and beverage for some of the world’s biggest airlines, but I have to go to a free clinic because my company insurance is so expensive that I can’t afford it,” said Roberto Alvarez, who loads airline carts full of food and beverage at one of the two SFO kitchens that held votes last week. “I voted to strike when released because one job should be enough to have a good life.”

Lorraine Powell, Food Service Director for UNITE HERE Local 2, said, “Airline catering workers are tired of watching United, Delta, and American Airlines make huge profits while they struggle to pay for unaffordable health care with poverty wages,” said. “We’re saying one job should be enough, and airline catering workers are ready to fight for it.”

The San Francisco strike vote is part of the largest such vote ever to occur in the U.S. airline catering industry, with thousands of UNITE HERE airline catering workers voting in 21 cities across the country.

Meanwhile, in Miami, workers at Miami Sky Chefs overwhelmingly voted to authorize their union, UNITE HERE, to request a strike. The vote drew a 72 percent turnout out of 874 employees and, among those who voted, 99.8 percent supported a strike, according to the Miami Herald.

Catering workers at JFK International Airport (JFK), Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, and Dallas’ DFW also have authorized a strike, among the other airports.

In July, UNITE HERE will formally request release to strike from the National Mediation Board, which would be followed by a 30-day cooling off period if granted. UNITE HERE is prepared to strike whenever it becomes lawful.

UNITE HERE represents over 270,000 members working in the hotel, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, distribution, laundry, transportation, and airport industries in the US and Canada.

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