Airport and airline workers worldwide denounce ‘ridiculous’ conditions

Airport and airline workers staged protests at airports across the United States and abroad on Tuesday, protesting what they described as disorganized operations that have not recovered since staffing was slashed. reduced at the start of the pandemic, forcing them to work too hard for too little pay. .

The protests – which included restaurant and lounge workers as well as flight attendants from United Airlines Holdings Inc. UAL,
+2.92%
and Southwest Airlines Co.LUV,
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– spanned dozens of outlets at San Francisco International Airport, as well as major US airports such as Atlanta and Los Angeles, and overseas in London and Guam.

Restaurant workers in San Francisco told MarketWatch they are striking to demand higher wages and to preserve their current health benefits, as inflation eats away at workers’ incomes. Southwest and United Airlines picketing flight attendants have demanded increased compensation and changes to what they say are grueling scheduling policies.

Outside a terminal entrance in San Francisco, flight attendants marched with airport workers, some carrying signs saying “One Job Should Be Enough”.

“Everything is up except our wages,” said Frank Wang, 70, who served as a bartender at the airport’s United Club lounge for 16 years. He said margaritas now cost $22, burgers $20 and beer over $10. He earns $16.99 an hour.

“It’s ridiculous,” Wang said, adding that he knows bartenders outside the airport who earn at least $10 an hour more. “The owners don’t give up. They should give back to employees.

The actions, which the two airlines say did not disrupt flight service, follow a cost increase that exceeded salaries and staff shortages and other service issues that caused thousands of flight delays and cancellations this year. And they come after pilot demonstrations from American Airlines Group Inc. AAL,
+3.46%,
Delta Air Lines Inc. DAL,
+1.71%
and Southwest; the threat of a railway strike, dismissed for the time being; and more vocal organizing efforts from well-known companies like Amazon.com Inc. AMZN,
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and Starbucks Corp. SBUX,
-0.62%.

Read more: Union push at Amazon, Apple and Starbucks could be ‘the most important moment in the American labor movement’ in decades

“We are extremely tired of having to tell our customers in the Southwest that we are sorry when we have these service disruptions,” said Lyn Montgomery, president of the Southwest Flight Attendants Union and flight attendant. for 27 years.

Montgomery’s union, TWA Local 556, planned to picket 10 airports, with protests expected to end later in the day, she said. They had also planned to demonstrate in Orlando, but did not as the region braced for Hurricane Ian, she said. The Association of Flight Attendants, which represents United flight attendants, planned to picket 15 airports, including London and Guam.

Restaurants and airlines cut staff at the start of the pandemic, with airlines steering many employees into buyouts even as billions of dollars in government support poured in. But as demand for travel has exploded, airlines and airports have found themselves understaffed and sometimes saddled with passengers. Some members of the airlines union have suspected airlines of overscheduling their flights, even when understaffed.

When flights resumed during the pandemic, airlines brought back flight attendants but not enough planners, said Kristie Rivera, chair of the local executive council of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA Council 11. Planners help ensuring flights are properly equipped.

She was at the San Francisco airport with protesting United Airlines flight attendants who she says are being negatively affected by internal process issues. She said there are now less than half of the 200 planners that were available before the pandemic.

That means some flight attendants wait “a five to six hour wait past their 14-hour days” to get their schedules, she said. “This contributes to flight delays and cancellations.”

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Susannah Carr, a United flight attendant and AFA-CWA representative who attended the protest at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, said scheduling issues can pile up quickly. She said if a flight is canceled, flight attendants often call crew planning to find out if they are reassigned. But the time spent waiting leads to more frustration.

She added that when passengers are delayed, flight attendants are also delayed, and these attendants are repeatedly tasked with resolving issues related to the flight.

“Whether it was because it was an issue with catering, or there were no blankets because we can’t get them due to pandemic resource issues, the onus is constantly on flight attendants to find solutions to problems,” she said.

Montgomery, president of the Southwest Flight Attendants Union, said protesters were demanding an end to the three- to four-day shifts in which some flight attendants sit on standby 24 hours a day. She said that attendants working these shifts may be called into work early in the morning or later in the evening, upsetting sleep patterns and leaving workers feeling anxious and exhausted.

She also said the union demanded compensation for hours worked outside of their original schedules and better access to meals during and outside working hours. The jets have dedicated storage to keep crew meals cool, but she said ice in those spaces tends to melt and soak into food. Flight attendants sometimes board flights after packing up to six days worth of food, given the time spent on flights, tight schedules and inconsistent hotel service.

“We have to pack all of our food,” she said. “We cannot get off the plane during the day to get food because there is no time between flights. And then when we arrive at a hotel, many times that hotel has already closed its restaurant business for the night.

Read: Complaints about air travel rise as airlines experience turbulence

A representative for Southwest said the airline did not expect any disruption in service. United did not respond directly to questions about whether the protests could alter staff negotiations.

“We’ve worked hard to reduce wait times for flight attendants to speak to a crew planner, including more hires and adding digital options for certain items,” a representative from United in a brief statement. In a follow-up, the rep added, “There was no impact on today’s operations.”

A day earlier, 1,000 cooks, bartenders, lounge workers and other workers from at least 84 food outlets and 30 contractors went on strike at San Francisco International Airport demanding a pay rise. These strikes continued until Tuesday.

The lines outside these outlets are longer. Stores that are open are staffed by managers. Travelers should plan to bring their own food, Unite Here Local 2, the union representing these workers, said Monday.

The union said most catering workers at the airport earned $17.05 an hour and hadn’t had a raise in three years. Their employers are proposing that workers contribute to the cost of health care, which employers are already doing. Anand Singh, the union’s president, said nine months of negotiations with the employers had failed.

See also: Fewer workers are union members, even as pandemic highlights poor working conditions

Some of these workers are employed directly by the outlets, while others are run by larger companies such as Compass Group PLC CPG,
+0.80%
and Flix. A representative for those employers did not immediately return a request for comment. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors convened a special hearing at San Francisco City Hall on Tuesday to discuss working conditions, wages and benefits at the airport.

Diana Gomez, 30, said she has had a full-time job at a restaurant in SFO since 2013 and a part-time job at another restaurant since 2018. She earns $17.35 and $18, respectively. hour at each job.

She said many airport catering workers work double shifts, like her. They are fighting not only for higher wages and to preserve their health care benefits, but also for better staffing levels, she said, adding that restaurants have not had enough staff since they had reduced at the start of the pandemic. Sometimes restaurants only have two employees for the entire shift, according to Gomez — so they cook and have to work on the register for eight hours.

Gomez, the breadwinner of her family which includes her husband and two children, said she is ready to strike for as long as it takes.

“We have to,” she said. “I hope the public will support us. I hope the restaurants will come.

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