Catering Staff Set To Protest At US Airports Over Thanksgiving

As travelers prepare for the busy Thanksgiving holiday weekend, hundreds of airline catering workers plan to stage protests at several of the nation’s busiest airports.

The low-paid workers are looking to send a message to the airlines telling them that, at a time when their profits have risen, the average worker is finding it tough to get by on what they bring home.

Boeing 777 de Alitalia
Airline catering staff plan Thanksgiving protest Photo: Barcex via Flickr

Many of the workers who will be staging the protests cook and deliver the meals to the airlines and are represented by the Unite Here labor union.

This could be the busiest Thanksgiving travel season ever

Plans for the protests include handing out pamphlets to travelers stating their demands while others plan sit-ins at ticket counters and pre-security areas of the airports.

Predictions suggest than America will see a record number of people traveling this Thanksgiving with some groups saying we could see as many as 31.6 million passengers between now and early December.

$18 per hour is not enough to live in New York. Photo: Automatic Taco via Flickr

Since the last recession back in 2008, corporations have seen profits soar. Yet none of this excess wealth has trickled down to some of the country’s lowest-paid workers. Protests are planned for Airports in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, and Philadelphia all areas of the country with some of the highest costs of living.

Unions are asking for a $15 minimum wage

The majority of workers protesting poor wages and benefits work for Gate Gourmet and LSG Sky Chefs two companies that provide onboard food and drink for several of the big airlines. The union makes a good point when it says some of its members do not even make enough money to keep up with rising costs and are calling for a minimum of $15 per hour wage.

33-year-old Queen’s resident Robert Ortiz drives a catering delivery truck at JFK for LSG Sky Chefs a Lufthansa controlled company and gets paid $18 per hour. When being interviewed by American business news channel CNBC, he told them that he needs $22 per hour to get by.

“Eighteen dollars in New York is nothing. People don’t really know what’s going on to get their flights on time. We know what we deserve. We’re not asking that much.”

Airline workers are not allowed to strike

Thousands of airline food service workers voted to strike over the summer, but they are forbidden from doing so because airline workers fall under the Railway Labor Act. This requires permission from a board whose members are appointed by the president.

A spokesperson for Gate Gourmet Nancy Jewell when asked by CNBC about the upcoming protests said,

“Gate Gourmet has made significant improvements for our people in wages and benefits across the U.S. and our negotiations with the union to date include additional investments in our people.”

With talks between the union and Gate Gourmet scheduled for December Jewell added,

“In the meantime, we operate under the Railway Labor Act, which preserves the current terms and conditions of our existing National Master Agreement labor contract and prevents operational disruptions. As always, we remain focused on excellent service to our airline customers and the passengers they serve.”

Meanwhile, LSG Sky Chefs spokesman David Margulies said that his company has been in negotiations with the union since May.

“While this is a short period of time to negotiate a complex labor agreement, we feel progress is being made with the help of the federal mediator. We remain committed to negotiating in good faith,” he said.

Protests will take place on November 26th at major US airports. Photo: Unite Here

For their part, American Airlines has said that negotiations between airline catering unions will ultimately lead to higher wages something that airlines will then have to pass on to the flying public.

“We understand that new labor contracts between Unite Here and LSG Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet will result in increased costs for their many airline customers, including American,” said American Airlines spokesman Josh Freed. “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.”

If you are flying this Thanksgiving please let us know if you encounter catering workers protesting at your local airport in the comments section.