As the Thanksgiving travel season began Tuesday in the United States, crowds flying across some major airports were met with a round of protests across the country staged by the Unite Here union for airline catering employees. The union created ‘die ins’ as workers walked into terminals and lied down on the floor to make a statement about their current wage and healthcare conditions.
For the airlines, no flights were disrupted. For most airports the scene was civil but some traffic delays caused by the protestors in New York-JFK and Philadelphia resulted in over 100 arrests. The protests were also held at Seattle-Tacoma, Minneapolis-St. Paul, San Francisco, and dozens of other large American airports.
The biggest target of these unions was the worker’s lack of access to healthcare. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, only 28 percent of airline catering employees at Philadelphia saw access to healthcare through the company. Overall, the union says that a survey done of LSG employees nationwide for American Airlines said that only 30 percent of the responders had their healthcare covered by the company while 35 percent relied on government-subsidized healthcare plans for their families.
Furthermore, the protestors are looking for a wage increase. Most protests saw employees requesting a pay increase from $12 to at least $15 to $16 per hour, which would bring them in line with other airport jobs. The only exception to this is San Francisco, where catering employees are paid over $18 per hour.
While the union made airlines such as Delta, Alaska, and American the target due to their high revenue and power to create deals with catering companies, the personnel are actually employed by companies such as Gate Gourmet and LSG Sky Chefs. Most airlines have released their statements saying that the issue is out of their control and lies directly with contractors. The catering companies and the union have their next negotiation in December in front of a mediator.
While Unite Here did get the attention they wanted, the union doesn’t plan on making any more formal strikes and hopes the scene at these major airports were more than enough to convince their catering businesses to rework their contracts. According to the Seattle Times, the workers are also deemed to be vital for airport operations, so any strike plans must be approved by the National Mediation Board and must not disrupt travel.
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