Airport food service workers voting on wage increases


Bucking a trend that has seen many workers taking wage freezes or even cuts, union members at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport are set to vote on a new contract that raises pay by as much as eight percent. 

The pact covers 850 restaurant, bar, commissary and other service workers employed by HMSHost, which operates food concessions at the airport. The company and UNITE HERE Local 17 reached agreement last week on the three-year deal. Union members vote on ratification Thursday in balloting conducted at the airport.

“It’s the biggest wage increase in the first year we’ve ever gotten out there,” said Nancy Goldman, president of Local 17 and chief negotiator for the union. Depending on job and seniority, workers will see their pay go up between five and eight percent in the first year, including a signing bonus.

Another major gain was holding the line on health insurance costs, with no increase in the employee contribution in the first year and minor increases in the subsequent two years, she said.

In addition, “We got some significant language changes that allow people to bid into other positions and move around the airport, which was important to our members,” she said.

The union preserved provisions of the previous contract, which expired Sept. 30, and “we didn’t give up anything,” Goldman noted. The company and union signed one-month extensions until reaching the settlement Dec. 29.

How did they do it? Goldman credits a variety of factors. HMSHost has several contracts open at airports and “has its hands full in some places.” For example, in Vancouver, Canada, negotiations are deadlocked and the company is threatening a lockout.

“Our local has a good relationship with the local management here,” Goldman noted. “They were motivated to get this thing done. The negotiations were incredibly respectful.”

Most importantly, the union built on months of education with members and had a 30-person committee – made up of workers from all areas – at the sessions, Goldman said.

“There’s a big difference when you go to a bargaining table with a committee behind you,” she said. “That’s really a key thing – the workers being at the bargaining table.”

Goldman said results of the ratification vote will be announced Friday.