For immediate release
October 23, 2018
Official tally of votes today reveals United’s Catering Operations workers chose overwhelmingly to join UNITE HERE after nearly a year of organizing
NEWARK, NJ—Workers in United Airlines’ catering kitchens in five cities have voted overwhelmingly to unionize with UNITE HERE. In a National Mediation Board election lasting five weeks, 72% of United catering workers voted to join the union. The newly-organized workers number approximately 2,700 and are employed in United Airlines kitchens in Newark, NJ, Houston, Denver, Cleveland, and Honolulu.
The vote paves the way for workers to negotiate a union contract and achieve equality with other United employees. 80% of United’s 88,000 direct employees are unionized. United’s catering employees were the only frontline United workers without union representation.
The United workers also join the 15,000 airline food workers who have led the “Fed Up” campaign across the U.S. airline industry. A majority of these employees will enter into collective bargaining by the end of 2018 and together are demanding a fundamental change in the industry that will finally bring an end to poverty in the kitchens.
“I am so thrilled that we’ve won our union,” said Lakisha McIntosh, a four-year employee in the United’s Newark catering kitchen, “My co-workers and I have fought so hard for this day because we know that we deserve to be equal with all the other United employees. We are United, too. Winning our union means that we are one step closer to the equality, safety, and respect that we deserve.”
United’s unionized workers have been strong supporters of catering workers’ campaign to organize, with support from the United flight attendants’ union AFA-CWA, United pilots’ union ALPA, Teamsters, International Association of Machinists, the AFL-CIO, and countless other political, labor and community leaders in all five cities.
“United Airlines’ Catering Operations workers are a critical part of the United operation, yet, they have been treated as second-class for too long,” said United flight attendant Ginny Stogner McDavid, President of the Harris County (TX) AFL-CIO Labor Assembly and Government Affairs Chair of AFA-CWA Council 42 (IAH), “Since the beginning of their organizing campaign, members of the AFA-CWA and the AFA United MEC have stood proudly with United Catering Ops workers as they fought for the same respect, dignity, and economic security that flight attendants like me and all other front-line service staff at United enjoy. We will continue to stand with them as they negotiate their first union contract with United.”
“Winning the union means that I will get to sit across the negotiating table from United to demand that I finally be compensated fairly for my decades of service to the airline,” said Maria Velasquez, who has worked at United in the Houston kitchen for nearly 30 years but still earns just $12 an hour, “In every city, having our union can improve everything from wages, to safety, to the lack of respect we receive from supervisors.”
Employees at United Airlines’ Catering Operations filed for a union election with the National Mediation Board (NMB) in January. That election was stalled for months while the NMB conducted an unprecedented pre-election investigation at the behest of United, which asked the NMB not to hold the vote. Ultimately, the NMB found United’s claims to be without merit and that workers were entitled to an NMB election, which took place between September 18 and October 23.
“This is a landmark moment in our union, representing the largest organizing victory of the year,” said D. Taylor, president of the UNITE HERE International Union, “Welcoming workers in United Airlines’ catering kitchens into our Union will not only change thousands of lives for those individual workers, but it’s a tipping point in the airline catering industry. It’s no secret that airlines like United continue to enjoy profits in the billions. 15,000 food workers have organized to tell major airlines that they refuse to be treated like second-class citizens—workers deserve their fair share of this industry’s success.”
Throughout the organizing campaign and for the duration of the election, United engaged in an aggressive anti-union campaign, employing scare tactics to discourage workers from choosing union representation. These included but were not limited to installing televisions in the kitchens to broadcast anti-union messages, hanging “Vote No” banners, and holding meetings during work time to disparage UNITE HERE. Nonetheless, workers’ commitment to organizing never wavered.
“From the beginning, we knew exactly what we wanted. We wanted a union,” said Solomon Jacklick, who has worked in the Denver kitchen for three years, “United tried everything it possibly could to tell us what we needed and didn’t need, and to discourage us from voting yes for the union. None of it worked, because we always knew that we deserved this. I’m ready to start negotiating our first contract.”
UNITE HERE is a labor union representing 300,000 hospitality workers in the U.S. and Canada. This includes nearly 18,000 airline catering workers employed by Flying Food Group, Gate Gourmet, LSG Sky Chefs, and United Airlines.