Airport catering workers protest low wages, high health care costs

AIRLINE CATERERS working for LSG Sky Chefs protested their low wages and high health insurance costs at airports across the country on Feb. 14 in a jaded Valentine for American, Delta and United airlines which, despite record profits, continue to pay their catering workers poverty wages. – Matthew Guerry/Forum News Service photo

Airline catering workers from LSG Sky Chefs took action Feb. 14 at 15 different airports.

These are the same workers who led nationwide protests against American Airlines in November, including planned arrests in surrounding streets and terminals of seven airports. Since then, they have received no commitment from American or any other airline to end poverty in the industry.

American, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines reported billions in profit for 2019, and distributed a record $1.6 billion in profit-sharing to its 90,000 airline employees. Yet, contracted catering workers, who prepare the airline’s first-class meals and ensure its flights are properly stocked for on-time departures, continue to struggle to pay bills and support their families.

Seventy-four-percent of airline catering workers serving Delta at its hub in Detroit make below $15 per hour. Wages at Detroit Metropolitan Airport’s kitchen are as low as $11.25 per hour.

“We’re happy for the Delta employees who are getting checks on Feb. 14,” said Lonmea Whitfield, a five-year LSG Sky Chefs employee at the Detroit Airport. “Those workers have helped the airline earn all of its massive profits, more than even $1.6 billion. But we’ve helped Delta earn its profits, too.”

By participating in this day of action, Whitfield said, “I want to show Delta that catering workers like me also deserve to share in its success.”

Catering workers across the United States face similar challenges. In a 2019 UNITE HERE survey covering 2,240 of 15,000 catering workers at the two largest airline catering contractors nationally, 56 percent reported having gone to work sick, 66 percent because they could not afford to miss time.

At American Airlines’ largest hub in Dallas, wages for catering workers serving the airlines are as low as $9.85 and 37 percent of those surveyed reported being uninsured. In the kitchen serving the airline in its Miami hub, workers earn as little as $10 per hour and 35 percent reported being uninsured, even though the minimum wage for most airport employees there is $13.61 plus healthcare.

Meanwhile, nearly 16 months since United Airlines’ directly-employed catering workers won union recognition, the carrier still has not made a wage proposal in contract negotiations. In Houston, dozens of United catering employees in January filed wage complaints alleging that United is paying less than required under the City of Houston Living Wage Air Carrier Executive Order.

Last week’s protests took place in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago as well as Charlotte, Detroit, Houston, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Seattle.


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