Bernie Sanders, Sara Nelson Join Airport Workers Moving Toward Strike

Sara Nelson, International President, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO, honors Sunrise Movement during the 2019 Henry A. Wallace Award on Monday, May 6, 2019 in Washington.
Photo: Kevin Wolf (AP Images for Wallace Global Fund)

Airplane food is reliably bland and always overpriced. To make matters worse, the workers who prepare your food often earn about the same in one hour as the cost of your stupid, disappointing in-flight cheese plate.

Workers who make food for airlines were joined by activists and politicians Tuesday as they protested to demand better working conditions. They picketed at Reagan National Airport in Northern Virginia, outside Washington, D.C., to demand affordable healthcare and higher wages.

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More than 11,000 airline food workers in 28 U.S. cities voted to authorize a strike last month, according to the service industry union representing them, Unite Here.

The union is negotiating on behalf of more than 3,000 Gate Gourmet workers and more than 7,500 Sky Chefs employees who provide food for flights on American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines. Workers earn as little as $8.46 an hour. Most earn less than $15 an hour, even after 40 years of work, according to Unite Here.

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Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent Senator and Democratic presidential candidate, praised the workers: “Let me congratulate all of you for the courage you are showing and standing up for yourselves, your families, and workers all across this country. Thank you.”

He continued, “At a time when corporate profits are at record-breaking levels, our demand is simple: we say to Sky Chefs, we say to Gate Gourmets, we say to American Airlines, pay your workers a living wage.”

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Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, challenged American Airlines to treat workers better: “American Airlines are responsible for the poverty wages in these kitchens and the inability to access real healthcare. And we are going to hold them responsible, because let me tell you something: if they refuse to get this right, we are going to use our power.”

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Unite Here President D. Taylor said in June that the vote to authorize a strike said that the workers were serious:

In the past two weeks, airline catering workers voted overwhelmingly yes to authorize a strike, a result that points both to the crisis of poverty wages and unaffordable health care in the airline catering industry, and to workers’ willingness to do whatever it takes within legal means to make a change.

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Sky Chefs worker and D.C. resident Tenae Stover, who has worked at Reagan National preparing meals for American Airlines flights for three years, said that she earns $13 per hour. She told HuffPost: “It’s not easy to do my job, being on my feet eight hours a day. We deserve $15 an hour and affordable health care. One job should be enough for all workers in the airline catering industry to be able to survive.”

She added that she is prepared to walk off the job. “For months we’ve been bargaining for wages we deserve, but we’re not getting anywhere. I don’t want to strike but I will.”

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Unite Here represented thousands of workers at Marriott Hotels who went on strike to demand better conditions last year.

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