Airport concession workers picket for labor rights

OAKLAND, Calif. – Solidarity was in the air Oct. 26 as members of UNITE HERE! Local 2850 and other unions and community groups held an informational picket outside the Oakland Airport. They were supporting workers at several concessions who face unfair discipline and harassment as they campaign for the right to organize.

Demonstrators called on airline passengers and the community to support the workers in their struggle.

Concessions leasing directly from the airport have signed an agreement with UNITE HERE!, which represents some 29,000 airport concession workers in North America. That agreement includes providing workers with a fair process, commonly known as “card check neutrality,” to decide whether or not to join the union. It also includes the union’s pledge not to cause labor interruption.

Some 240 Oakland Airport workers have joined Local 2850 under this agreement. Their contracts include living wages, health care for themselves and their dependents, retirement benefits and other important rights on the job.

But workers at eight concessions subcontracting from the main food service provider, HMS Host, are not covered by the agreement. They lack affordable health care, retirement benefits and other labor rights. Some concessionaires have allegedly even violated the Port of Oakland’s living wage requirement.

Among the eight are Subway, Jamba Juice, Burger King, and See’s Candy.

The non-union concession workers began campaigning for the right to organize last June.

Since then, they say, four workers have been fired and many more have faced harassment and/or unmerited discipline.

HMS Host workers were on the line Oct. 26 in solidarity with their nonunion brothers and sisters.

HMS Host claims it doesn’t have the power to make its subcontractors conform to the labor agreement, “but the subcontractors pay rent to them,” said HMS Host worker Monica Guzman.

Guzman said she and the other union workers face their own challenges in negotiations for a new contract to replace the one that expired July 1. She said HMS Host is seeking to keep wages the same while “freezing” health coverage so workers will have to pay a larger share.

Other demonstrators were leafleting and talking with passengers as they entered the terminal. HMS Host worker Kia Mitchell turned from talking with one very receptive passenger to say that among problems the non-union workers face is being required to cover two positions but only being paid for one.

“The companies don’t hire enough people to cover the work that needs doing,” she said. The nonunion workers also face unpredictable last-minute scheduling that makes it very difficult to meet their families’ needs.

“I want the workers for the subcontractors to have the same rights that I do,” she said. “After all, they’re making money for those companies.”

Photo: Marilyn Bechtel/PW


Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes for the People’s World from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986, and currently participates as a volunteer.