Supervisors arrested at SFO union protest

Airline catering workers negotiating for better wages, affordable health care benefits

Fifty people were arrested Tuesday evening at San Francisco International Airport including San Francisco supervisors Matt Haney, Gordon Mar and Ahsha Safai during a protests for airline catering workers seeking better wages and health care benefits, according to Unite Here Local 2, which represents some of the workers.

Dozens started a sit-in at 4:20 p.m. in Terminal 2 where flights for American Airlines depart and the arrests were made because the demonstrators failed to disperse. Workers and supporters chanted “American Airlines rolling in dough, poverty jobs have got to go,” Ted Waechter with Unite Here Local 2 said.

The 50 arrested included San Francisco Supervisors Matt Haney, Gordon Mar and Ahsha Safai.

Catering worker Malia Salt said, “I took arrest today because even though I load drinks and snacks onto carts for American Airlines, my health care is so unaffordable that I’m afraid to go to the doctor.”

“All the bills have left me in thousands of dollars of medical debt, while American Airlines makes billions. It’s time for American Airlines to make my health care affordable,” Salt said.

American Airlines issued a statement saying, “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.

The catering workers are in pay negotiations with LSG Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet, however, catering and workers and supporters called on American Airlines Tuesday to “lead the way,” Waechter said. American Airlines sets the menu, they “can also set the standard,” he said.

“Ultimately the airlines are profiting” off of the work of the caterers. American Airlines added 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.”

The sit-in followed a protest by more than 350 workers and supporters in front of the terminal. The 350 included cabin cleaners, wheelchair attendants, luggage handlers and other airport service workers, all who supported the caterers.

The demonstration Tuesday was on one of the busiest travel days of the year. In the Bay Area, it also happened to be the first rainstorm of the season. The power went out at Oakland International Airport and flight delays and cancellations occurred at San Francisco International Airport.

Unite Here Local 2 President Anand Singh said in a statement, “We’re protesting on this busy travel day because we want American Airlines passengers to know that poverty wages and unaffordable health care are unacceptable.”

Tuesday’s demonstration was the latest in a series of protests at the nations airports to call attention to American Airlines, union officials said.

San Francisco police, who made the arrests, could not be reached to confirm the number of people arrested.

Keith Burbank, Bay City News

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