Receiving a plastic tray of food on a long flight is an experience that is usually met with disdain. Soggy noodles, cold, plastic-wrapped rolls, and damp pads of butter are usually only reluctantly consumed by hungry passengers. So uniform is the food that it’s easy to forget that behind the scenes there are actual people who pieced these industrialized meals together. And on Thursday they’re going on strike, in a collective demand that major airlines American, United, and Delta both raise their pay and shell out for three-years-worth of federal back taxes, despite making millions in profits each day.
“Airline catering workers, most of whom are people of color, struggle to make ends meet on as little as $8.20 an hour,” read a statement sent out by the UNITE HERE Union on Thursday. “Often forced to work multiple jobs to survive, these workers are calling for higher wages and equality. In some cities, caterers for United, American and Delta do not even pay wages on par with area minimum wages or established living wage standards for other airport workers.”
The protest comes just before taxes are due — a time that can be tricky for those who don’t get a return. It can also feel particularly harsh to pay taxes when your employer doesn’t.
“I pay my income taxes every year even though I had to get a second job,” says Stephen “Step” Bethea, an airline catering worker at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, in a union statement. “I just couldn’t make ends meet on the money I get paid making meals for passengers of Delta, United, and American. It’s unbelievable, and so messed up, that I pay more Federal income tax than all of these airlines combined. I am struggling to survive and they are raking in billions in profit and billions more from passenger fees, including for the food and beverages we prepare. Those airlines should at least make sure we get the raises we deserve.”
The union has more than 270,000 members in North America, 37,000 of which work in airline catering and concessions at 51 airports across the United States. Protests are planned not just at San Francisco International Airport, but also JFK, LAX, Miami, Honolulu, Dulles, O’Hare, Detroit, BWI, Logan, and Minneapolis airports.
Thursday’s protest at SFO will take place between 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on the departures level of Terminal 3. It’s unclear if the protest will affect food on flights leaving during that period — but we suggest you bring ample snacks regardless.