A vehicle enters San Francisco International Airport on Friday, April 10, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Supervisors angered by SFO food contractor who transferred workers, cutting wages and benefits

Board considering endings business with company that received $370 million in pandemic relief

A food-service contractor for numerous airlines at San Francisco International Airport has transferred workers from a facility near SFO to one in San Jose last month, resulting in smaller paychecks and lower healthcare standards, according to the Board of Supervisors and documents viewed by The Examiner.

The union that represents roughly 300 dishwashing, catering and food service employees (UNITE HERE, Local 2), said the contracter (LSG Sky Chef) took deliberate action to skirt the wage requirements and more stringent healthcare standards applied to companies that operate at SFO.

The SFO Airport Commission sets the minimum wage for employees who provide services to the airport at $18.74 per hour.

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the Healthy Airport Ordinance in late 2020 that mandates airport employers provide comprehensive, affordable family healthcare coverage at no additional cost to the employee.

LSG Sky Chefs received $370 million in federal coronavirus relief, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. The workers’ union believes that also creates an obligation to provide benefits.

“Sky Chefs took over $370 million in taxpayer dollars explicitly intended to keep workers on payroll, so they’d receive benefits,” said union president Anand Singh.

A spokesperson from Sky Chefs told The Examiner in an email that the decision to consolidate food operations in San Jose “has been in the works for many months,” calling it a “business-related decision linked to the impact of the pandemic.”

The three supervisors who serve on The City’s Government Audit and Oversight Committee agreed with the union’s assessment. At a meeting Thursday, they used words such as “despicable,” “inconceivable” and “shameful” to describe the move and suggested The City should no longer do business with such a company.

“We have to make sure our workers are protected, and when we pass laws, they are adhered to,” said Board President Shamann Walton, who does not sit on this committee but co-sponsored the healthcare ordinance.

The San Francisco Office of Labor and Standards Enforcement initiated an investigation on April 16 into non-compliance allegations against Sky Chefs. OLSE Director Patrick Mulligan told committee supervisors that Sky Chefs had not cooperated with the investigation.

“As we’ve seen time and time again, too many wealthy corporations would rather spend money on expensive lawsuits and ballot measures or even upending their entire corporation, in the case of Sky Chefs, than simply give workers the basic rights and protections they have earned and deserve,” said Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, another co-sponsor of the Healthcare Airport Ordinance.

LSG Sky Chefs received the $370 million in taxpayer dollars earmarked for workers’ salaries as part of the federal government’s aviation industry bailout. The Texas-based employer has cut hourly pay for at least some of those who have started working at the San Jose facility, according to the union and confirmed by documents obtained by the Examiner.

Rosa Huynh has worked at Sky Chefs for thirty years, the last 12 of which were at SFO. She spends her days preparing cold foods to be delivered to aircrafts at the gates.

She was furloughed for about twelve months due to decreased travel during the pandemic, but recently started work again at the San Jose food preparation site instead of her prior SFO workplace.

Her wages have since been reduced from $18.74 per hour, the standard for anyone working at SFO, to $17.46 per hour.

“I feel like if our wages are good and if our benefits are good, our life will be better,” she said.

For those whose jobs have been moved to San Jose, multiple union members told The Examiner that Sky Chefs alerted employees that the Healthy Airport Ordinance would no longer apply, despite the fact that they prepare food and conduct services for SFO flights.

Linda Fajardo has prepared cold foods for Sky Chefs at the SFO facility since 2016. Without the more affordable care provided by the ordinance, she would pay $250 every month for insurance and a $60 co-pay per medical visit.

She calls herself “lucky” because she doesn’t have small children to take care of, but should her job be moved to a San Jose facility, it would increase her commute four-fold, raise the total cost of her gas and make it more difficult for her to afford the physical therapy appointments she needs to care for her 60-year-old knees.

“It’s a betrayal,” Fajardo said, noting she’d been furloughed for the duration of the pandemic and had yet to be called back to work at either location. “They are not considerate of their employees.”

Sky Chefs maintains SFO wage and healthcare standards do not apply to workers employed at facilities outside the City and County of San Francisco even if they are providing services to the airport itself, a conclusion with which the OLSE disagrees wholeheartedly.

SFO was one of the hardest hit domestic airports during the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of passengers in 2020 dropped to 16.4 million, down 71.4 percent from 2019.

Many aviation and tourism industry representatives fought against the Healthy Airport Ordinance and cautioned that it would dramatically increase the cost of doing business at SFO, pass the cost along to the customer and force airlines and contracts to cut jobs.

San Francisco’s labor officials (OLSE) will conclude their investigation into Sky Chefs and release its findings in the coming weeks.

The committee said on Thursday it will continue to apply pressure to the company and the SFO Airport Commission as well as explore the full reaches of the board to ensure workers are protected under local healthcare and wage laws.

cgraf@sfexaminer.com

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