STRIKING catering workers employed by LSG Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet were arrested at airports across the United States on November 26 as they protested for higher wages and benefits.
A nationwide series of strikes and sit-ins blocked traffic and terminals at airports across the nation at the end of last month.
Thousands of workers were demanding a living wage and affordable health care.
Hundreds were arrested in the mass protests at the following airports: Charlotte, Chicago (ORD), Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Honolulu, Houston (IAH), Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, Newark, New York (JFK), Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington (DCA).
The strike was spearheaded by the Unite Here 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 came as national mediators sat down with both sides in an attempt to hammer out a compromise.
Airlines, which generally do not employ catering workers directly, are trying to steer clear of the conflict. For example, an American Airlines spokesperson said: ‘We understand that new labour 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.’
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.
Unite Here president D. Taylor commented on 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 colour. We’re trying to get airlines to recognise that and lift up their standard of living.’
Coordinated by Unite Here, marches, pickets and sit-ins targeted the highly profitable American Airlines, urging the company to pay more to its catering contractors to enable increased wages and affordable medical insurance.
Poverty wages and inadequate health coverage are one of the seamy sides of the airline industry invisible to travellers.
One in four catering workers earns less than $12 per hour; it is common for workers to work several jobs and depend on relatives for housing; some are homeless.
- Almost half of US workers between ages 18 to 64 are employed in low-wage jobs, the Brookings Institution found.
Low-wage jobs are pervasive, representing between one-third to two-thirds of all jobs in the country’s almost 400 metropolitan areas.
Smaller cities in the South and West tend to have the highest share, such as Las Cruces, New Mexico, and Jacksonville, North Carolina, where more than 6 in 10 workers are in low-wage work.
America’s unemployment rate is at a half-century low, but it also has a job-quality problem that affects nearly half the population, with 44% of US workers employed in low-wage jobs that pay median annual wages of $18,000.
Contrary to popular opinion, these workers aren’t teenagers or young adults just starting their careers, write Martha Ross and Nicole Bateman of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Programme, which conducted the analysis.
Most of the 53 million Americans working in low-wage jobs are adults in their prime working years, or between about 25 to 54, they noted. Their median hourly wage is $10.22 per hour — that’s above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour but well below what’s considered the living wage for many regions.
Even though the economy is adding more jobs, there’s increasing evidence that many of those new positions don’t offer the kind of wages and benefits required to get ahead. A new measure called the Job Quality Index recently found there is now a growing number of low-paying jobs relative to employment with above-average pay.
For the US overall, median household income is $66,465, according to Sentier Research, with roughly half of families earning less than that amount.
About 6 out of 10 workers say their jobs are mediocre to downright bad, according to a recent Gallup job-quality survey. For instance, 1 in 5 workers told Gallup their benefits are worse now than five years ago.
But not only small cities in the South and West have a high proportion of low-paid jobs, the Brookings authors noted.
‘Places with some of the highest wages and most productive economies are home to large numbers of low-wage workers: nearly one million in the Washington, D.C., region, 700,000 each in Boston and San Francisco, and 560,000 in Seattle,’ Ross and Bateman wrote.
They added that recent research suggests ‘there simply are not enough jobs paying decent wages for people without college degrees (who make up the majority of the labour force) to escape low-wage work.’
In other words, even if low-wage workers undergo job training and learn new skills, they’re not guaranteed to find good-paying jobs anywhere near where they currently live.
- After almost a year of a growing rift between California labour unions and the Governor’s office, new warnings of an economic downturn and further cost-cutting in the state budget are bringing the situation to a head.
When elected in 2018, Gavin Newsom had most major unions in California backing him to some degree. Promising union jobs in everything from a high-speed rail system to more government services, he had support of unions ranging from the giant State Building and Construction Trades Council of California (SBCTC), the United Farm Workers, to United Auto Workers, which doesn’t even have a presence within the state.
But Newsom quickly cut back on what he said he was going to do.
The famed Sacramento to San Diego high-speed train system was drastically scaled back, putting an estimated 50,000 jobs in jeopardy, saying it ‘would cost too much and respectfully take too long.’
While the train cut-back angered the SBCTC, a water project offering thousands of jobs between Sacramento and the San Joaquin Valley brought a similar outcry. And then a highways project was cancelled. Followed by cutbacks on state-owned building renovations in Sacramento. And then another. And another.
Meanwhile the California Nurses Association (CNA) went towards striking and protesting, partially due to Newsom not going forward on a single-payer system, despite the CNA asking for it for years.
Further steps away from unions, such as his last minute pulling of SBCTC president Robbie Hunter from a state commission about automation in the workforce, not signing 3 major union backed bills into law, and angering the California Teachers Association by not signing an extended maternity leave bill, have made Newsom unpopular among those in labour.
While he has been praised by a few labour groups, most notably the California Labour Federation over signing the law giving child care workers in California the right to strike, they have been few and far between.
And now with the clock ticking on a new budget, and California showing signs of an economic slowdown, many in labour are worried that a new year of cuts will lead to even more union losses.
Governor Newsom, who had been believed to help with jobs and contracts has been accused of ‘a working class betrayal’ over taking what he promised away.
And any change to the budget or state funding in general would have huge ramifications for most unions.