This month marks the one-year anniversary of the start of contract negotiations between LSG Sky Chefs, the world’s largest airline catering company, and UNITE-HERE, the union representing 6,600 Sky Chefs employees nationwide. Workers from Sky Chefs kitchens across the country marked the anniversary with a rally Oct. 22 in the Twin Cities, where federal lawmakers joined labor leaders and rank-and-file members in calling on the company to stop dragging its feet and negotiate in good faith with its workers.
“Here we are a year later, and workers have met with the company once and sometimes twice a month,” said Martin Goff, vice president of Twin Cities-based UNITE-HERE Local 17. “Still, the company does not have a comprehensive proposal on the table.”
Sky Chefs workers want action on a fair contract that addresses concessions they made four years ago.
Photo by Michael Moore
Workers want Sky Chefs to begin the process of making them whole for deep wage and benefit concessions they gave the company four years ago, when it appeared headed for bankruptcy.
Now that Sky Chefs is profitable again, workers are looking to recover their standard of living. But Sky Chefs is seeking more concessions, including a health care plan that would increase premiums even more.
“These workers gave wages up, they took health care increases, they received a contract that was worse than what they had a decade ago,” Goff said. “But it was all done with the idea of keeping their jobs and their company afloat – and with the promise that they would be appreciated later on when the company started to do better.
“Sky Chefs is now doing better, but they seem to have forgotten the sacrifice that the people who work for them made. That’s not acceptable.”
|Congresswoman Betty McCollum signed a statement in support of the workers.|
Photo by Michael Moore
At the rally Sky Chefs workers explained how their lives have changed since those concessions went into effect, freezing their wages and increasing their health-care premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.
Eugene Kamara, a Sky Chefs driver from Minneapolis, started with the company when he was 18.
“It was my first job, and it was better then compared to now,” Niragira said. “Now I pay close to $500 per month for health care for my daughter and myself, and I pay $820 per month for rent. If you do the math, you can count how much I’m going to be left with.
“How can I save for my daughter to go to school if I have to pay almost $90 a week for health care, and my wages are frozen?”
Like many Sky Chefs employees, T. Turner of Philadelphia relies on welfare programs like food stamps and medical assistance to make ends meet. Turner, who has been with the company for two years, said he is ashamed to tell people where he works because his wages are so low.
“We work for a multi-billion-dollar company, and there’s no way any of their employees should have to rely on welfare or public assistance to get by,” Turner said. “I would like to see us get a fair contract at the end of the day so that I can get off of public assistance and be able to afford medical coverage through my job.”
The Oct. 22 rally capped a series of meetings in which Sky Chefs workers plotted strategies to shift their negotiations with the company out of neutral.
The National Mediation Board, the federal agency charged with coordinating labor relations in the airline industry, has been involved in negotiations, and Goff said the union’s options – including a strike or other economic measures – are limited as a result.
The company’s strategy, meanwhile, has been to try dividing workers geographically, hoping if workers in one airport kitchen settle for less, others around the country will follow suit.
“Sky Chefs doesn’t want workers to be able to negotiate a single wage for all workers across the board nationally,” Goff said. “They want, city by city, to negotiate wages. That’s a way to divide us, and it’s not going to happen.
“When the company asked for concessions, they asked for national concessions. There was a national vote on those concessions, and they got those concessions. Now it’s time to pay people back on a national level, all at once.”
That’s the message UNITE-HERE leaders are hoping workers like Kamara, Turner and John Munsen, an equipment-sanitation coordinator based in the Twin Cities, will take back to their locals across the country.
“Our members are unified from New York to L.A. and all points in between,” Munsen said. “We’ve got 47 kitchens, and we are all on the same page. It’s an awesome movement we’ve got here.
“All of the disrespect and bad-faith bargaining Sky Chefs has shown us thus far has only unified us and made us stronger. Together, we are committed to fighting one day longer than the company.”
Michael Moore edits The Union Advocate, the official publication of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation. Learn more at www.stpaulunions.org