For immediate release
May 23, 2018
Over 95% of United’s 2,700 catering workers are people of color and immigrants
CHICAGO — 100 workers and their supporters rallied today outside of United Airlines’ annual meeting, asserting that conditions for employees in the airline’s catering kitchens perpetuate a “separate but equal” environment that disproportionally affects immigrants and workers of color.
United employs over 2,700 workers in kitchens in Newark, Houston, Denver, Honolulu, and Cleveland. They are over 95% people of color and immigrants, with origins in over 60 countries. They earn lower wages than other United employees, face harsher work rules and have no protections against unjust firings.
“There are more people of color and immigrant workers in catering operations than in any other part of United,” said Sheeon Charles, who works in the Newark kitchen, “United tells us that we’re important to the company, and we know we are. But it’s no secret that we don’t earn as much as other United employees, and that we’re treated as second class citizens within the company. Everyone knows that there’s no such thing as separate but equal, but that’s exactly what United claims is a reality among its different employee groups. Why does United act differently towards catering workers?”
Catering employees are the only frontline United workers without union representation. In January of this year, 76% of catering workers filed for a union election, seeking to be treated equal to other United employees. In response, United has worked hard behind the scenes to suppress workers’ right to vote in such an election, claiming without evidence that immigrant workers didn’t comprehend what they were doing.
The airline has also engaged in an increasingly aggressive anti-union campaign, attempting to convince catering workers that they are part of the “United family” on one hand, while on the other making threats that they could lose benefits they already have, such as flight benefits, if they vote to unionize. Such actions represent a startling about-face for an airline that has prioritized labor relations with its other unionized employees.
“After 13 years working for United, I earn only $11.15 per hour, which is far below the wage of United employees in other jobs” said Ellen Bryan-Hill, who works in the Houston catering kitchen, “I work for a very profitable airline, but I have to make and sell nacatamales and pastries on the side because I don’t earn enough to pay all my bills. Catering workers like me are just as important to United’s flight operations as anyone else in this company, but so long as we earn less, are treated differently, and are threatened with losing benefits that others have, we’ll never be equal. United must move into the 21st century and recognize that catering workers deserve rights and fair compensation, too.”
Workers from United’s catering kitchens in Newark, Houston, and Denver all traveled to Chicago to participate in the rally. United catering workers also protested today in Houston, Denver, Newark, and San Francisco.
UNITE HERE is a union with over 270,000 members in the U.S. and Canada. It represents over 15,000 airline catering workers—employees of Flying Food Group, Gate Gourmet, and LSG Sky Chefs—at 51 airports across the country.