For immediate release
January 15, 2020
UNITE HERE-represented catering workers call on members of Congress to demand the airlines take responsibility for the crisis of poverty in kitchens at airport hubs across the country.
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, UNITE HERE union leaders in the airline catering industry testified before the House Subcommittee on Aviation in a hearing on Oversight of Working Conditions for Airline Ground Workers, focusing on their personal experiences of a “crisis of unaffordable health care” in the industry. In addition to oral testimony from a UNITE HERE affiliate leader, written testimony from workers who service American, Delta, and United Airlines flights at their hubs in Denver, Detroit, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, and Washington, D.C. supplied their written testimony.
Airline catering workers from the Washington, D.C. area, as well as several of their coworkers from other kitchens, traveled to Capitol Hill to attend the hearing in person.
“I traveled from Detroit to Washington, D.C. this week to fight for my daughter, Ariana,” says Shandolyn Lewis, an airline catering worker at Detroit Metro Airport, a Delta Air Lines hub, who traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend the hearing in person. “She is now 13 years old and needs regular medical care.”
“Members of Congress need to know what’s happening in the airline industry, and how people like me are struggling to afford to take our children to the doctor.”
Airline catering workers prepare, pack, and deliver food and beverages served aboard United, Delta and American flights. Predominantly people of color and immigrants, catering workers earn some of the lowest wages in the airline industry, and many are unable to afford employer health care coverage because it is prohibitively expensive.
“There is a crisis of poverty and a healthcare crisis that’s hurting airline catering workers,” says UNITE HERE witness Marlene Patrick Cooper, President of UNITE HERE Local 23, which represents catering workers, including in the south (read Marlene’s full testimony here).
“We are calling on American, Delta and United Airlines to take responsibility and show leadership to transform the entire industry. This year, the airlines can—and must—do right by airline catering workers and ensure that one job is enough to live with dignity.”
According to a survey of 2,240 out of approximately 14,000 airline catering workers that UNITE HERE conducted in 2018, nearly 1 in 3 workers depend on government care for either themselves or their children, 25% reported being uninsured, and 26% reported skipping or delaying doctor or hospital care, prescriptions, or other necessary medical treatment for themselves or their families in the past 12 months because of the cost their families would have to pay.
In June, more than 15,000 airline catering workers voted to authorize a strike if released by the National Mediation Board. UNITE HERE members in cities across the country have participated in airport protest actions, including a national mobilization on November 26 that saw 200 people participate in civil disobedience at seven airports.
Watch the full hearing here.