Workers who prepare, pack and deliver food and beverages served aboard flights for American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and other carriers have voted in favour of authorising a strike when released by the National Mediation Board (NMB).
The vote was the largest ever to occur in the US airline catering industry, with more than 11,000 workers voting in 28 cities.
The workers are members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, UNITE HERE, and Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) unions, and employed by airline catering subcontractors – LSG Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet. The three unions collectively represent more than 25,000 airline catering workers.
“In the past two weeks, airline catering workers voted overwhelmingly yes to authorise a strike, a result that points both to the crisis of poverty wages and unaffordable healthcare in the airline catering industry, and to workers’ willingness to do whatever it takes within legal means to make a change,” said UNITE HERE International president, D. Taylor.
“Catering workers refuse to sit back and watch airlines like American, Delta and United earn billions in profits while workers barely scrape by. Now is the time for one job to be enough in the airline catering industry.”
Later this summer, UNITE HERE will request release to strike from the NMB, which would be followed by a 30-day cooling off period if granted. UNITE HERE said it prepared to strike whenever it becomes lawful.
“In 2018, American Airlines, Delta and United Airlines made a combined $7.4 billion in profit,” said International Brotherhood of Teamsters general president, Jim Hoffa. “The world’s airlines can afford to pay vendors enough so that employees earn a fair return on their work.
“Airline CEOs are being paid $15 million a year while Gate Gourmet employees are paid as little as $8.46 per hour. We want airline passengers to understand that our members don’t want to have to strike, but they’re ready to do so.”
“Together, we are sending a clear message to the airline industry that our members need to earn a living wage in order to continue living and working in the major cities our airports serve,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of RWDSU.
The strike authorisation vote followed a breakdown in bargaining for a new contract and the unions say Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet pay their employees “poverty wages” – as most are paid less than $15 an hour, some after more than 40 years on the job.
Many go without health insurance according to the unions because they cannot afford the $500 monthly premiums to enroll in family healthcare plans.
In their first public action post-vote, many workers joined informational picket lines at airports across the country during the week of 17 June.