SFO Airline Catering Workers Vote 'Yes' to Authorize Strike

A view of the International Terminal at San Francisco International Airport. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

An overwhelming majority of unionized workers employed by two catering companies at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) have voted to authorize their labor leaders to call a strike.

Representatives for Unite Here Local 2, the hotel and restaurant workers’ union of San Francisco and San Mateo counties, announced Saturday morning that 99 percent of their members voted in favor of authorizing a walkout. The union represents nearly 1,600 members who work for Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet. The two contractors provide food and beverages to several airlines.

"Airline catering workers are tired of watching United, Delta and American Airlines make huge profits while they struggle to pay for unaffordable health care with poverty wages," said Lorraine Powell, a Unite Here Local 2 food service director, in a statement.

Unite Here Local 2 is the same union that staged a months-long strike at Marriott hotels in the Bay Area and across the country last fall.

The labor organization is pushing for similar actions at 20 other airports across the country, involving thousands of workers.

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The union is calling for higher wages and less expensive health care plans for its workers. The association has said that the median wage for catering workers at SFO is $18.66 an hour and its members pay an average monthly premium of $800 for family coverage.

Talks in the dispute are ongoing and involve a federal mediator.

Because the catering employees work at an airport, they would need to get authorization from the National Mediation Board, an independent federal agency, in order to be "released" and walk off the job.

David Margulies, a spokesman for Sky Chefs, said Saturday that the company remains focused on resolving the dispute through "good faith collective bargaining" and sent a statement similar to one issued earlier in the week before the workers began voting.

"Our company values the hard work and dedication of our team members. Wages, as well as other benefits, including vacations, uniforms and company provided meals, health and welfare are subject to the collective bargaining process between our company and their union representatives. We are currently in negotiations regarding our collective bargaining agreement with the union and we are continuing to negotiate in good faith," the statement reads.

A representative for Gate Gourmet has yet to respond to a request for comment.

American Airlines says it's monitoring the situation.

"American respects the right to free association and collective bargaining. The negotiations in question are between our vendor, their employees and the union. American is not involved in these negotiations, but we do not anticipate any impact to our catering operations," the company said in a statement.

United Airlines said it's getting ready in case of a strike.

"It is our understanding that the parties are in mediation with the National Mediation Board. While we are hopeful that those discussions will result in an agreement, we have contingency plans in place to preserve the experience for our customers," United said in a statement.

Representatives for Delta Airlines have yet to comment on the strike vote.

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