Dozens of airport food service workers rallied for increased wages and better health care coverage on Thursday ahead of what promises to be a busy summer travel season.
The workers, part of the Unite Here Local 2 union, represented a mix of concession workers from the restaurants and coffee shops within the airport’s terminals, as well as airline catering workers who often staff industrial kitchens on the edges of the San Francisco International Airport.
They said they hope their protest will help push forward what they say are stalled contract negotiations with their employers over wages and sick leave as summer travel ramps up and mask use decreases.
One of them is Pearl Li, who has worked at SFO for 18 years as a flight coordinator, a job that involves delivering in-flight food for flights and interfacing with plane crew members. She attended today’s action because she says her salary, at $24.11 an hour, is insufficient. She’s not able to take care of her husband—who can’t work due to kidney failure—and her daughter who’s in college.
“It’s not enough to support my family. My husband has been sick for more than two years. It’s really hard for me. That’s why we’re asking for better wages,” Li said. She told The Standard she would like to get a second job, but can’t because when she’s off work she’s busy looking after her husband.
“They are frontline workers,” said Ted Waechter, a spokesperson for Unite Here. “A number of members have had Covid or are afraid of getting it and not being able to afford the medical bills if they don’t have affordable healthcare.”
SFO has forecast approximately 12 million travelers at the airport between Memorial Day and Labor Day, which would constitute about 67% of pre-pandemic levels and a nearly sixfold increase over 2020’s traffic.
Citing the billions in CARES Act bailout funds that airlines received, as well as the unsteady and physically demanding labor that workers like Li perform, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors introduced a resolution in June urging airline service contractors operating at San Francisco International Airport to protect workers, many of whom are people of color. That includes the approximately 4,500 food service workers at SFO.
Li, who had Covid a handful of months ago, also said she’s afraid of contracting the virus again as fewer passengers and crew wear masks.
“Many passengers don’t wear masks, so I think it’s still very dangerous for everybody,” said Li.
Sophie Bearman can be reached at [email protected]