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Charlotte airline caterers ready to strike for pay and benefits
Food workers union prepared to walk off job
 
Published Wednesday, July 24, 2019 1:40 pm
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

PHOTO | TROY HULL
Members of the airline food service union Unite Here picketed for improved wages and benefits at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in 2017. Charlotte airline caterers voted last week to authorize a strike if negotiations with catering subcontractors fail to produce a resolution. Food workers in 29 other cities have voted to strike against the nation’s three largest carriers.

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Airline caterers like Bobby Kirkpatrick can’t stomach substandard benefits.


Kirkpatrick and his fellow workers who prepare food and drink for American Airlines flights at Charlotte Douglas International Airport voted last week to authorize a strike pending authorization by federal mediators. The Charlotte vote is part of the largest strike authorization in the U.S. airline catering industry, with 30 cities impacted.


“I’ve been working at the airport for 38 years,” said Kirkpatrick, a workers committee member at Unite Here Local 23, a labor union representing more than 1,000 food service workers at Charlotte Douglas International. “But I still have to work more than one job just to make ends meet. American Airlines profited billions and billions of dollars, but people like me haven’t gotten a raise in years.”


The National Mediation Board is acting as go-between for the food workers and airlines and has final say on whether the caterers can strike. Talks have failed to secure a deal to improve wages and health care benefits for caterers, while the three largest U.S. airlines – American, Delta, and United airlines – earned a combined $50 billion in profits over the last five years. Nearly 170 Charlotte caterers service American flights for LSG Sky Chefs, the nation’s largest airline catering subcontractor. Some workers earn as little as $8.46 an hour.


“That workers voted 100 percent to strike when released should send a strong message to American Airlines. Out of nearly 170 workers, 98 percent make less than $15 per hour,” said MaryBe McMillan, president of the North Carolina State AFL-CIO. “Among American Airlines hub airports, wages are the lowest at CLT, where workers start at just $8.40 per hour. This has reached a crisis level — airline catering workers in Charlotte need meaningful changes and they need them right now. The rest of the labor movement stands with these workers.”


Unite Here, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters are negotiating on behalf of 7,700 Sky Chefs employees and 3,270 Gate Gourmet workers who service flights for American, Delta and United at major airline hubs. Unite Here is also negotiating with United on behalf of that airline’s 2,600 food workers who are not covered by a contract.

“Our staff has engaged in good faith negotiations beginning October 2018 and with the help of a federal mediator since May 2019,” LSG Sky Chefs said in a statement. “The stumbling block to success is the union's demands for added wages and benefits that more than double our total cost of labor. While we have proposed increases in wages as well as other benefits, our company could not possibly meet the union's demands and remain in business. We will continue to negotiate in good faith and hope that as in the past, we will be able to reach an agreement with the assistance of the federal mediator.”


The Charlotte caterers, who formed picket lines at Charlotte Douglas International to protest low wages in 2017, will walk out after a federally-mandated 30-day cooling off period should the mediation board authorize a strike.

Comments

I was a part of the picket at DCA on the 23rd. What a huge turn out. We at AFA-CWA marched proudly beside our brothers and sisters and will continue to do so until they receive a comparable/competitive benefits package and pay stucture.
Posted on July 25, 2019
 
Labor will not get what it deserves until they stand up for themselves. This is the time to do so, when the labor market is tight.
Posted on July 25, 2019
 

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