Nearly 1,000 food service workers at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) went on strike indefinitely Monday, demanding higher wages and a continuation of their current healthcare benefits.
The strike comes after 99.7% of the unionized workers under Unite Here Local 2 voted on Aug. 10 to authorize a future strike after more than nine months of demanding higher wages came to nothing.
The strike was sparked after management refused to drop its proposal to reduce funding for healthcare insurance. Workers would be required to pay hundreds of dollars in monthly insurance premiums to maintain their current levels of health coverage, according to Local 2 spokesperson Ted Waechter.
“We don’t think there’s been enough progress in negotiations […] workers have lost patience,” Waechter said.
The airport’s spokesperson declined to comment on the negotiations.
Workers servicing the airport’s restaurants, bars, coffee shops and lounges began picketing at 3:30 a.m. Many of them earn $17.05 an hour and have not had raises since the last contract between the union and the airport expired in 2019, according to Local 2.
“Nobody can pay their bills or feed their kids on $17 an hour,” Local 2 President Anand Singh said in a press release. “Nine months of negotiations got us nowhere, and SFO’s food service workers are tired of working two or even three jobs just to survive.”
Waechter would not share specifics on the wages and benefits they are demanding, citing a confidentiality agreement between the union and the vendors that employ the workers during ongoing negotiations. He said only that workers want a “significant” raise, and to maintain current healthcare without additional premiums.
Molly Gomez, who has been a bartender at SFO since 1980 and earns $15.10 an hour, said she cares the most about maintaining her current healthcare plan, because she is worried about not being able to afford care while Covid-19 is still a concern.
“They are so behind on wages,” Gomez said. “A burger costs $20 and I only make $15, and now they want us to pay for healthcare too.”
Local 2 has warned that restaurant service at SFO would be impacted by the strikes, and suggests that travelers plan to bring their own food.
SFO spokesperson Doug Yakel had no comment on the workers’ demands, but said in a statement that the airport has advised travelers that the strike is impacting staffing at restaurants and lounges but that newsstands continue to offer snacks and beverages. Restaurant service will be updated on the airport’s website.
“Staffing at newsstands is not currently affected, and these outlets will continue to offer grab-and-go food and beverages,” Yakel said. “Full-service meal availability may be limited. SFO apologizes for any inconvenience this causes.”
Garrett Leahy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org