Rev. Ben Meyers of the Unitarian Universalists addresses the Airport Commission. (Courtesy Laurel Fish)

SFO’s minimum wage rules to include off-site laborers

Some Peninsula food workers scored a victory earlier this month when the Airport Commission voted unanimously to expand SFO’s minimum wage rules to include off-site laborers who assemble in-flight meals destined for the airport.

The workers are employees of LSG Sky Chefs, Flying Food Group and Gate Gourmet — the three catering companies that provide almost all in-flight meals in the United States.

LSG Sky Chefs and Flying Food Group both operate kitchen assembly lines in Burlingame, where the airport’s minimum wage did not previously apply. Gate Gourmet’s facility is on airport property, but due to some technicalities, that kitchen’s workers were similarly not covered by the airport’s minimum wage.

Up to this point, the workers and their union representatives say life has been hard at all three companies, with wages averaging $10.50 per hour, which forces many employees to work at second and third jobs to make ends meet.

Beginning March 1, 2016, those workers will be paid at least $13.52 per hour, as the Airport Commission’s recent vote expands SFO’s Quality Standards Program — which includes the higher minimum wage — to include off-site kitchens serving the airport.

The workers are represented by Unite Here Local 2, whose president, Anand Singh, called the vote a positive development in their campaign to get all three employers to pay workers at least $15 per hour.

Singh’s union has been in a contentious, ongoing labor dispute with Flying Food Group, but he noted the company became an unlikely ally when it voiced support for the proposed minimum wage increase before the Airport Commission.

Flying Food Group declined an interview request, but Singh said he believes the company would like to offer better wages on a level playing field, where its competitors could not gain an advantage by continuing to pay lower wages.

Singh and many of the union members he represents claim the increase to $13.52 an hour still won’t enable the workers to live comfortably, but some acknowledged the pay raise will make a difference in their lives.

Yesenia Salinas Molina has worked at Flying Food Group for over five years, where she currently earns $10.98 per hour. She rents a room in a house in South San Francisco that has 10 other occupants. In order to afford rent and childcare for her two-year-old son, she also works as a hotel housekeeper.

Salinas Molina said the extra money could make it easier to pay her rent on time, and might even enable her to quit her housekeeping job and spend more time with her son.

“This raise means I will at least be able to spend more time with my son,” Salinas Molina said, “He’s growing up quickly, and I think it’s important to be there for him and build strong bonds during his childhood.”

Sophia Chan is another Flying Food Group employee who welcomed news of the pay increase. Also at the company for five years, Chan is at the higher end of the pay scale, currently making $12.90 per hour.

Chan said her rent recently increased by $200 per month, and without the pay raise, she would have to work even more overtime. Chan said she currently works six days per week, but the slightly higher wage might enable her to work less.

“It would be incredible to have two days off so I could spend time with my family and run errands,” Chan noted, “Right now, I don’t have time to rest or take care of myself because I’m working so much.”

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