American Airlines Exploits Catering Workforce
Nation watches as thousands take action during busy Thanksgiving holiday to demand fairness
Hundreds were arrested and thousands more demonstrated at airports nationwide on one of the busiest travel days in the U.S.—the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. The protests were led by airline catering workers who provide inflight food and beverage services for all major U.S. airlines, including American Airlines. Through marches, pickets, sit-downs and die-ins, workers called on American to take urgent and necessary steps to ensure that workers who cater its flights are able to escape poverty and access healthcare. Protests took place in 16 cities from coast to coast, with some key Delta and United hubs also targeted. In Dallas (DFW), Los Angeles, Miami, New York (JFK), Philadelphia, San Francisco, ad Washington, D.C. (DCA), workers and supporters were arrested for their acts of nonviolent civil disobedience.
“We’re out here protesting across the country because we’re sick and tired of being the lowest-paid and worst-treated workers in the airline industry,” said Nadia Small, who has worked catering flights out of JFK Airport—a hub for both American and Delta—in New York City for the past six years, “If this Thanksgiving is hard for travelers, think about our hardship. It’s life and death. Many of us don’t have any health insurance, or we take an expensive, low-quality plan that leaves us struggling with medical debt. We can’t pay our bills. One job should be enough for me and my coworkers, just like it’s enough for most other workers in this billion-dollar airline industry.”
Airline catering workers prepare, pack, and deliver food and beverages served aboard flights for American Airlines and other major U.S. airlines. Though their work is essential to airline operations, one in four workers who provide food and drinks to American Airlines at its hubs and who work for subcontractors LSG Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet earn less than $12 per hour, including many who have been in their jobs for over a decade. A survey of 581 out of approximately 4,100 Sky Chefs workers serving American Airlines at the carrier’s hubs found that 30% of the workers were uninsured and 35% rely on government-subsidized healthcare for themselves or their kids. Meanwhile, American reported a 2018 annual profit of $1.9 billion.
The day of protests was the latest in a series of escalating demonstrations at U.S. airports calling attention to American Airlines, including large-scale demonstrations in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Dallas-Ft. Worth—where over 50 were arrested in a civil disobedience action near American Airlines’ headquarters and largest hub airport. This past summer, UNITE HERE airline catering workers at 33 airports voted overwhelmingly to strike when released by the National Mediation Board. Federal mediation of contract negotiations continues.
“It’s long past time for American Airlines, along with the rest of the industry, to do better by the people who make sure their flights are ready for take-off,” said UNITE HERE President D. Taylor, “These workers provide a critical link in the chain of airline service—they shouldn’t have to choose between buying food or paying for medical care. UNITE HERE will keep fighting to end poverty wages and unaffordable health insurance, because one job should be enough for airline catering workers.”
“This is a season of Thanksgiving,” said Nirva Jean-Paul, who has worked for 7 years serving American Airlines and other airlines departing the Miami International Airport, “It’s a time to celebrate with family and to give thanks for the bounty of the year, but that’s not a reality for most of us airline catering workers. I hope American Airlines will take this seriously, because my co-workers and I are going to keep fighting. We’re going to keep fighting until we get what we deserve.”