San Francisco Airport fast food workers win raises, better health care
Fast food workers on the picket line | Unite Here

SAN FRANCISCO —It took a short strike, a peaceful sit-in which led to 41 arrests, and a viral video about workers who can’t afford the fast-food meals they serve their customers, but 1,000 San Francisco Airport food service workers won tentative agreement on a better contract featuring “significant” raises and employer-paid family health care.

Details would be released after the ratification vote, scheduled for October 2, but their union, Unite Here Local 2, said on September 29 that the 80-member bargaining committee unanimously recommended it.

The current median wage for the workers—half of whom made more and half less—is $17.05 per hour, barely above California’s minimum wage and far less than what workers need to live in one of the highest-cost metro areas in the U.S.

In being forced to strike for higher pay and decent benefits, the San Francisco Airport workers became the latest, but certainly not the last, group of underpaid, overworked exploited workers who have had it up to here and responded with a nationwide wave of activism.

Such activism has taken the workers in three directions:

  1. Increased unionization, especially at Starbucks and other low-pay chains,
  2. “Striketober” and succeeding nothing-to-lose activism,
  3. or departure for better jobs.

The airport’s 30 concessionaires forced the workers to walk for two days before the settlement. That shut all 84 lounges and eateries at the airport. The union advised departing passengers to bring their own food—bought or made elsewhere—before boarding planes.

The sit-in blocked the road to airport Terminal 3 on September 16. Some 41 workers and allies were arrested for peaceful civil disobedience. Those arrested included Local 2 President Anand Singh, California Labor Federation Executive Director Lorena Gonzalez, two state legislators, and two city supervisors, Local 2’s Ted Waechter said in a release.

Lucinda To, who works two jobs at the airport, in the United Club lounge, and at Cat Cora’s Kitchen, told the union that after doing so to support her family, “I’m exhausted from living on four hours of sleep a day.

“I’m making $16.99 per hour even though a meal at the airport costs at least $20. I hope this protest will show people that workers at SFO need a change, and we are ready to strike for it,” To added. SFO is the airport’s designation in the national air traffic system.

That comparison was also the point of the video, which drew more than 500,000 views. Singh reinforced it. “Working at SFO used to mean you had a good job, but most of the airport’s fast-food workers haven’t seen a raise in three years,” he said.

“Nine months of negotiations that got us nowhere,” so the workers had to “strike for decent jobs.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.