PHOENIX (AP) – A union representing the largest group of food service workers at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport went on strike Monday – during one of the busiest travel weeks of the year – to heighten concerns about wages, health insurance and pension contributions.
HMS Host is the largest concessionaire at Phoenix Airport, serving more than 45 million passengers annually prior to the coronavirus pandemic. UNITE HERE Local 11 workers overwhelmingly voted in favor of the strike last week.
The strike does not affect flights, but it does affect hungry travelers as HMS operates more than two dozen restaurants and cafes. The company said in a statement it would offer prepackaged groceries and reduce seat service offerings during the strike.
Airport spokesman Greg Roybal said most restaurants are open on Monday.
“Today’s activity affects less than 10% of the restaurants that would normally be open today,” he told the Arizona Republic.
The union said in a statement that four years of contract negotiations had failed, leading to a strike. Union officials say workers are demanding salary increases, affordable health insurance, a company-paid pension, and protection from discrimination.
HMS Host said it offers significant wage increases, bonuses and benefits, including paying 90% of employee health care bills. The union represents less than half of the company’s hourly workforce, HMS Host said.
“This is part of the most generous compensation package ever for Sky Harbor employees,” the company said in a statement.
Sky Harbor chef Lucia Salina said she and her colleagues hadn’t received a raise since 2017 and were facing financial problems. She said the company’s offerings were not enough and asked travelers for understanding.
“We’re working so hard during the pandemic and I just feel like this company doesn’t respect us,” she told azfamily.com.
Mary Allums, who was touring Sky Harbor, told the news channel that the holiday is a good time for workers to go on strike, but that “it is inconvenient for people who have nothing to do with it.”
The union said workers will remain on strike until HMS Host agrees to go along with their demands, the union statement said. The union represents between 450 and 475 of the workers, dozen of whom picketed in shifts Monday, spokeswoman Rachele Smith said.
A one-day strike organized by UNITE HERE in September to protest staff shortages at the airport’s restaurants resulted in long lines of customers at places like Starbucks.