Catering workers picketed at Denver International Airport yesterday after United Airlines hinted it is considering replacing them with cheaper contractors as soon as it legally can.
United Airlines May Outsource Catering Workers At Its Flight Kitchens
To be clear, United Airlines has announced no catering job cuts. As the recipient of massive federal aid, United cannot furlough workers until at least December 26, 2021 when Cares Act 3 funding expires.
But that has not stopped United from issuing a RFP (request for proposal) to explore outsourcing its catering kitchens, as American and Delta have already done (and United has already done at many stations).
A United spokesperson explained:
“United continues to explore ways to do things differently and become more efficient wherever we can – this RFP is part of that effort. We regularly explore third-party partnerships that have the potential to make us more efficient and improve the experience for our customers.”
United Here is the union representing United catering workers at stations across the United States. A spokesperson noted:
“They have received $7.7 billion in taxpayer bailout and are able to receive billions more and meanwhile disclosed $7.5 million bonuses for top executives if they stay with the company for three years or until federal restrictions expire. It doesn’t appear that United has disputed any of these facts.”
The $7.5 million in bonuses were recently disclosed to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Due to restrictions placed upon the receipt of such bonuses as a condition of accepting taxpayer bailouts, these bonuses are in the form of long-term contingent cash awards.
Economics 101 Or Predatory Corporate Socialism?
Amelton Archelus is a United Airlines employee and refugee from Haiti. He’s been with United for 20 years. Speaking to ABC 7 Denver, he said:
“I don’t see me going to look for another job. We need the public to know what United is doing isn’t fair for us, for me and my coworkers. We need the politicians to know because… they voted for the money to go to United, so they have a right to know exactly what United is doing.”
On the one hand, it is hardly surprising that United is looking to streamline operations after tremendous losses related to the pandemic. If American and Delta do not maintain their own flight kitchens, it is not unreasonable for United to explore why it cannot have the same work done for less.
And yet to even considering cutting staff while offering lavish bonuses for executives (even if contingent) and accepting billions in taxpayer aid strikes me as deeply problematic.
Furthermore, if catering staff is furloughed then rehired by a contractor like Gate Gourmet at lower wages and those workers seek government aid to compensate, United is simply passing the buck to taxpayers once again.
The Racial Component
United Airlines has made race front and center of the conversation by embarking upon an ambitious program to offer preference to people of color and women at its pilot training training academy.
But United Here notes “United catering workers are overwhelmingly people of color and immigrants.” When the rubber meets the road, what does it mean to give lip service to hiring minorities and people of color while firing them to save a few bucks an hour?
These are issues United must carefully consider.
In ordinary times, outsourcing labor is just part of business. United cannot be faulted for wanting to pay less for catering-related expenses. But these aren’t ordinary times and even once United is legally able to furlough workers again, it should think twice about both the optics and ethics of replacing long-term workers with contractors after milking U.S. taxpayer for billions.
image: United Airlines