Catering workers are being arrested at airports across the United States as they protest for higher wages and benefits.
A nationwide series of strikes and sit-ins have blocked traffic and terminals at airports across the nation. Arrests have been mounting at airports including:
- Chicago (ORD)
- Houston (IAH)
- Los Angeles
- New York (JFK)
- San Diego
- San Francisco
- Washington (DCA)
The strike is being spearheaded by the Unite Here labor union, which represents thousands of airport caterers.
Unite Here argues that while airlines have enjoyed record profits, catering workers have been left behind. The union is demanding higher wages, more generous health benefits, and better working conditions.
The protest at 18 airports comes as national mediators sit down with both sides in an attempt to hammer out a compromise.
Nancy Jewell, a spokesperson for Gate Gourmet told CNBC:
Gate Gourmet has made significant improvements for our people in wages and benefits across the U.S. and our negotiations with the union to date include additional investments in our people.
In the meantime, we operate under the Railway Labor Act, which preserves the current terms and conditions of our existing National Master Agreement labor contract and prevents operational disruptions. As always, we remain focused on excellent service to our airline customers and the passengers they serve.
I’m not sure the “our people” line twice in the same sentence will endear Gate Gourmet to its workers.
Airlines (Try To) Steer Clear
Airlines, which generally do not employee catering workers directly, are trying to steer clear of the conflict. For example, an American Airlines spokesperson said:
We understand that new labor contracts between Unite Here and LSG Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet will result in increased costs for their many airline customers, including American.
We are not in a position to control the outcome of their negotiations or dictate what wages or benefits are agreed upon between the catering companies and their employees.
This is a typical airline response.
But catering workers are particularly angry about this sort of messaging, pointing to record airline profits and a failure of those profits to trickle down into the pockets of contract workers.
That’s why D. Taylor, the president of Unite Here union, is keeping the message on airlines:
God bless the big three airline companies, but our folks live in poverty. Catering workers work in large industrial kitchens and are often invisible.
They work in cold damp places in the winters of Minneapolis and hot places in summer in Phoenix. They are predominantly female and people of color. We’re trying to get airlines to recognize that and lift up their standard of living.
Be advised if you are traveling from any of the airports listed above this week that you may face additional delays. Last night, 60 catering workers were arrested at JFK for blocking the road leading to Terminal 8. Similar arrests have been made across the country.
Are you in support of airlines catering workers? Are you willing to pay more for your tickets so they enjoy a higher wage?