For immediate release
February 26, 2015
27 workers and supporters arrested in civil disobedience action in Freedom Plaza.
Washington DC — Today, hundreds of under- and uninsured airline catering workers from across the U.S., demonstrated with their allies near the headquarters of Airlines for America (A4A), the largest airline trade association. The action marked an escalation to workers’ “Nickel A Ticket” campaign, which calls on A4A members United, American and Delta Airlines to earmark one nickel per passenger ticket towards affordable health care options for airline catering employees.
Workers, religious leaders and community allies gathered in Freedom Plaza for a rally featuring speeches and popular theater, culminating in the arrest of 27 people.
As part of the day’s event, Christopher Barnes shared his experience catering food at Reagan National Airport: “I’ve been a Cold Food Prep worker for 2 years. I have a serious medical condition that requires constant care; so not having insurance isn’t an option for me. I only make $8.80 an hour and pay $60 a week for insurance. This leaves me with almost nothing to cover rent and utilities, which is why I’ve been homeless for the past 6 months. I work full-time, and that’s just not acceptable.”
In all major airports, airline food workers clean dishes, prepare meals, ensure security and transport the food and beverages consumed aboard thousands of flights each day. According to a 2014 analysis of nearly 10,000 contracted airline catering workers nationally, over 40 percent make less than $10.10 per hour. Such low wages position industry workers between a rock and a hard place: unable to pay the premiums of so-called “minimum value plans,” but ineligible to purchase more affordable options from health care exchanges.
Meanwhile, the U.S. airline industry is booming: in one example, American Airlines reported a record $1.2 billion net profit in third quarter 2014. Yet American, Delta, United and other airlines continue to squeeze the food workers in their supply chain, paying catering companies an average of only $2.50 per passenger for food—nearly $2.00 less than 2001 rate for similar services. As profits soar, catering workers are seeking their fair share: the equivalent of just one nickel per ticket.
“We know that these Big Three airlines control most of the industry and have the power to make things right once and for all,” said Helen Harris a dishwasher at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, “I’m here today because I can’t afford to keep paying the $5,000 deductible for health insurance and because me and my co-workers are tired of seeing no benefits from the profits of a growing industry. One nickel per ticket means nothing to these airlines, but it will mean the world to us.”
On Wednesday, workers visited their state political representatives on Capitol Hill.
UNITE HERE is a union with over 270,000 members in the U.S. and Canada, including 27,000 airline catering and concessions workers. It represents nearly 12,000 airline catering workers, employees of Gate Gourmet, Flying Food Group and LSG Sky Chefs.