Melieni Cruz (center) and others at a recent labor action for airline catering workers. The workers, employed by two subcontractors, are negotiating for higher wages and benefits and plan to protest at SFO Tuesday Nov. 26, 2019. (Courtesy photo)

Protesting airline catering workers to greet holiday travelers at SFO

Bay Area travelers flying out of San Francisco International Airport this week will hear demands for wage increases from hundreds of rallying airline catering workers.

The protest starts Tuesday at SFO’s departures level in Terminal 2 and is part of a national day of action, in a campaign where 15,000 workers at thirty or so airports nationally are expected to take part over days.

Those airline workers, employed by the subcontractors Gate Gourmet and LSF Sky Chefs, are on the precipice of a strike and are hoping to push American Airlines to raise their wages and offer better healthcare packages. Currently, premiums can reach up to $800 a month, according to Unite Here Local 2.

The union said that because of the price, fewer than half of these airline catering workers take advantage of company health care now and only 10 percent take advantage of family coverage.

While their wages are $18.16 an hour, higher than San Francisco’s minimum wage, the Bay Area’s high cost of living is pushing these workers to the brink, they said.

Melieni Cruz packs beverage and food carts for American Airlines flights but fell into $5,000 worth of medical debt after having cysts removed from her ovaries last year. She also supports her elderly parents.

“It’s painful, I’ve had to live on ibuprofen, it’s the only way I can get myself to work,” she said. But she said the medical plan available was unaffordable. Now she works six days a week and pushes overtime “because that’s how folks meet ends,” she said, “we want American Airlines to know that we’re serious and we deserve to have affordable medical.”

This past summer the workers voted to strike through the National Mediation Board. American Airlines has said it has plans to maintain service should the strikes come to fruition. They also argued that they did not play a role in negotiations between Unite Here Local 2 and the subcontractors.

“We are confident that, with the ongoing assistance of federal mediators, the catering companies and Unite Here will negotiate new nationwide agreements that increase pay and benefits,” an airline spokesperson wrote in a statement. “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. 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.”

Those contract negotiations are still undergoing federal mediation.

American Airlines reported a third-quarter net income of $425 million this year, and their third-quarter earnings were up, the airline told its investors in a public statement. The company returned $244 million to shareholders. The airline said that the quarter was a “challenge” impacted by grounding the Boeing 737 MAX for technical issues and due to “ongoing labor contract negotiations.”

However, Chairman and CEO Doug Parker added in a statement, “We are pleased to report an earnings increase of 15% and earnings per share growth of 20% for the third quarter, excluding net special items.”

Charles Hannan, a seven-year American Airlines “de-trasher” who works for a subcontractor removing trash from airline beverage carts, said he believes those profits could be redirected to give workers affordable healthcare. Hannan’s fingers no longer bend backward from the repetitive motion his job entails, and he works six days a week as well as part-time jobs to earn a living.

He has little time to spend with his wife, children, and three grandchildren, aged 14, 13, and 9, he said.

“The worst part is robbing time from my family,” Hannan said. “You make a billion dollars of profit a year. Can’t you share a little with us?”

joe@sfexaminer.com

This story earlier misstated the wages of the SFO workers as $17.66, but it is $18.16.

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