CHICAGO – After getting a $15-billion bailout, major airlines then used Sept. 11 as a pretext to eliminate meals on most domestic flights. This makes it possible for them to add to their profit column the wages of thousands of workers from “in-flight kitchens” who they’ve dumped on the unemployment lines.

But last month, Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) Local 1 wasn’t taking it lying down.

Demanding “Jump-start the economy. End the layoffs!” a noisy noontime picket line in front of the United Airlines office in the Chicago’s Loop got the attention of Christmas shoppers and office workers from blocks around.

To dramatize their point that depriving airline passengers of meals would also make thousands of workers and their families go hungry, Local 1 set up a soup kitchen on Michigan Avenue – dispensing Ramen noodles in a styrofoam cup with a jug of hot water on tap to make it a meal.

Lillie Sheard, one of the 1,000 laid-off employees from O’Hare Airport’s Skychef and Gate Gourmet operations, was one of those on the line.

“I’m glad my union is out here fighting this. I’m afraid and worried,” said Sheard, who for 10 years has assembled the trays with salad, rolls, butter and silverware for the roll-on meal carts, “and I miss my co-workers.”

At a street corner rally, Illinois AFL-CIO President Margaret Blackshere accused United Airlines of taking advantage when tragedy struck.

“The very next day they were in Congress with their hands out,” she said.

Blackshere, speaking for her one million members promised, “We’ll be out here every damn day if we have to till we get something for the workers.”

One sympathetic passerby was glad to get the Ramen noodles.

“I just flew into O’Hare and all I got was a lousy bag of pretzels,” he said.

“How in the hell does starving the passengers and laying off employees increase the safety of the flight?”

The HERE nationally coordinated Day of Action featured similar rallies in New York, L.A., Dallas, Miami, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C.

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Dollars and cents

Average unemployment benefits for HERE members in Illinois:

• $155/week single

• $169/week individual + spouse

• $180/week ind. + children

To continue health care requires COBRA payment of:

• $258/month individual

• $659/month family

Out of the $720/month a person with children might collect from unemployment, $659 would have to go to pay for medical insurance!

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