For the airline catering workers at San Francisco International Airport, packing champagne for first-class passengers is a bitter reminder of allegedly inadequate healthcare coverage and low wages.
It’s something they’ll likely keep in mind when they vote to strike on Tuesday amid labor negotiations with companies that pack food and drinks for major airlines like United, Delta, and American Airlines. When joined by airline food staff in 20 other cities over the next two weeks, it’s one of the largest votes among airline catering workers, according to UNITE HERE Local 2.
“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,” says Lorraine Powell, the union’s food service director. “We’re saying one job should be enough, and airline catering workers are ready to fight for it.”
UNITE HERE Local 2 estimates that less than half of the airline workers at SFO had health insurance in 2018, just 10 percent had a child or family member covered, and that the median wage is $18.66. The hospitality worker’s union represents about 2,100 employees in SFO’s airline kitchens of subcontractors LSG Sky Chefs and Golden Gate Group.
“Our company values the hard work and dedication of our team members,” LSG Sky Chefs said in a statement. “Wages, as well as other benefits, including vacations, uniforms, and company provided meals, as well as health and welfare, are subject to the collective bargaining process between our company and their union representatives.”
The company added that they are negotiating “in good faith.” But Mohammed Rahman prepares drinks for United flights at SFO and already knows how he’s voting on Tuesday.
“I do the drinks for United, one of the biggest airlines in the world, and I still make so little that my 14-year-old daughter and I have to share a single room in a house with three other roommates,” Rahman says. “I’m voting to strike because I think my daughter deserves better.”
Should the workers authorize a strike, the day they begin striking is uncertain since the National Mediation Board has to release aviation workers first. The strike vote comes as summer travel ramps up, and a little more than a year after airline workers protested the minimal income taxes paid by the same three airlines.
This article has been updated with a statement from LSG Sky Chefs.