NEW YORK (WABC) -- Approximately 300 catering workers serving American Airlines spent their Valentine's Day protesting for higher wages and better healthcare outside Terminal 8 at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
UNITE HERE Local 100, the union that represents workers in cafeterias, executive dining rooms, restaurants, bars, delis, airports, sports and exhibition halls and performing arts centers throughout the New York and New Jersey areas, is calling on American Airlines to take urgent and necessary steps to ensure that workers who cater its flights are able to escape poverty and access medical care. At least 30 workers were taken into custody by police.
The demonstrators -- contractors of LSG Skychefs and Gate Gourmet, which are business partners of American Airlines -- participated in what they called civil disobedience as a part of a national day of action to demand that airlines provide better wages and access to more comprehensive healthcare.
A similar protest with more than 500 people over Thanksgiving weekend ended with 53 being arrested for disorderly conduct.
Organizers say American Airlines reported $1.7 billion in net income in 2019 and returned $1.3 billion to shareholders in the form of dividends and share repurchases. Yet, they say subcontracted airline catering workers who provide the food and beverages served aboard American's flights at JFK Airport and around the country remain stuck in poverty.
They say contracted catering workers at JFK prepare American's first-class meals and ensure its flights are properly stocked for on-time departures, but only 26% of workers at LSG Sky Chefs at JFK had company healthcare in 2018, and only 5% covered any dependents.
In a 2019 survey by UNITE HERE of 2,240 out of 15,000 catering workers at the two largest contractors nationally, 56% of respondents reported having gone to work sick, 66% because they could not afford to miss time.
American Airlines recently reached a $4.2 billion agreement with its ground and maintenance workers, and protesters are demanding the company address the concerns of all workers who make its operations possible.
A spokesman for American Airlines issued the following statement:
"We are confident that federal mediators will help the catering companies LSG Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet negotiate new nationwide agreements with Unite Here that include higher pay and better benefits. We understand this will result in increased costs over time for their many airline customers, including American. We are not in a position to control the outcome of their negotiations or dictate what wages or benefits are agreed upon between the catering companies and their employees."
LSG Sky Chefs issued the following statement:
"Our negotiating team and a federal mediator have been working since May 2019 to negotiate in good faith with the union representing our employees. Our company has offered improvements in wages and is discussing numerous other issues covered by our collective bargaining agreement. We feel progress is being made with the help of the federal mediator. We remain committed to negotiating in good faith."
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Food workers protest at JFK Airport for higher pay, better healthcare