Labor steps up pressure on American Airlines, catering companies

UNITE HERE and Culinary 226 workers demonstrated at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nov. 26, 2019. (Culinary courtesy photo).
UNITE HERE and Culinary 226 workers demonstrated at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nov. 26, 2019. (Culinary courtesy photo).

Airline catering employees at 17 U.S. airports, including McCarran International in Las Vegas, are demonstrating this week demanding American Airlines pressure its catering companies to resolve a labor dispute.

Catering workers and members of the Culinary 226, both of which are part of the UNITE HERE labor union, joined forces at the Las Vegas airport Tuesday to bring attention to the dispute with LSG Sky Chefs, which caters for American Airlines.

“Today is a very busy travel day, and we’re protesting at LAS and at airports across the country because we want as many passengers as possible to know that airline catering workers are sick and tired of being the lowest-paid and worst-treated workers in the airline industry,” said LSG Sky Chefs employee Ramon Aura in a statement issued by the Culinary. “One job should be enough for me and my coworkers, and we’re ready to do whatever it takes to get what we deserve.”

The average wage of catering workers at McCarran is $12.41, and barely more than a third of them had company health insurance in 2018, according to the Culinary.

Catering workers at LSG Sky Chefs and another company, Gate Gourmet, are in contract talks with the workers nationwide. Workers at 33 airports voted to strike earlier this summer, but legally they fall under the Railway Labor Act, which means they can’t strike unless allowed by the National Mediation Board.

A spokesperson for LSG Sky Chefs told CNBC earlier this week that the company is “committed to negotiating in good faith,” while American Airlines issued a statement warning that higher pay and benefits will drive up costs for customers.

Last month the airline reported third quarter 2019 net profit of $425 million, despite the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX and “operational challenges resulting from ongoing labor contract negotiations.” The company also returned a quarter-billion dollars to shareholders through dividends and stock buybacks, and has $850 million more buybacks on deck, part of a current $2 billion buyback schedule.

“In aggregate, American has returned more than $13 billion to shareholders over the past five years through share repurchases and dividends,” the company said in its earnings announcement.

Hugh Jackson
Editor | Hugh Jackson was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and author of the Las Vegas Gleaner political blog. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and editor at the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune.