By Kellie Chudzinsk
Off-duty LAX hospitality workers organized by Unite Here Local 11 will be protesting for higher wages and better health care coverage on Tuesday, Nov. 26, under the rallying cry “one job should be enough.”
Similar protests are set to happen at no less than 17 airports nationwide, greeting early Thanksgiving travelers with the largest airport workers demonstration in three years. But don’t call it a walkout or a strike — airport workers need federal approval for one of those, leaving the action to off-duty and non-airport union members.
American Airlines, Delta Airlines and United Airlines are the top targets for the LAX protest, with union organizers pointing to a combined $7.4 billion in airlines profits last year.
Workers who prepare and package inflight meals are contracted through third-party catering companies. At LAX, airlines contract with one of three major industry players: Gate Gourmet, Flying Food Group and LSG Sky Chefs. A joint Service Employees International Union and Unite Here Local 11 protest at LAX on July 3 targeted LSG Sky Chefs for offering reduced health coverage compared to Flying Food Group.
Unite Here 11 states that LSG Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet provide only 34% of their LAX hospitality workers with employer-based health coverage, and that the majority of their employees earn hourly wages below $15. “Catering workers shouldn’t have to choose between paying their bills and getting medical treatment,” a union statement reads.
As of July 2018, the Los Angeles Living Wage Ordinance requires that LAX employees earn at least $13.75 per hour and $5.24 in health benefits.
In a statement to The Argonaut, LSG Sky Chefs said the company continues to negotiate with union representatives.
“Our negotiating team and a federal mediator have been working since May 2019 to negotiate in good faith with the union representing our employees. Our company has offered improvements in wages and is discussing numerous other issues covered by our collective bargaining agreement,” that statement reads. “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, and we hope that union members will act lawfully as they exercise their right to demonstrate.”
Los Angeles World Airports, which operates LAX, directed requests for comments to the airlines, representatives of which did not respond by press time.
“One job should be enough to let families support themselves,” Unite Here spokeswoman Maria Hernandez said, echoing the call to action of Tuesday’s protest.
Chudzinski is a freelance writer and former editor-in-chief of the Los Angeles Loyolan.