Oakland Airport Workers Announce Plans To Strike Over The Holidays

Food and retail workers at the Oakland International Airport said today that they plan to strike at some point during the holiday season to protest what they say are unfair labor practices, including low wages.

Sarah Norr, a spokesman for Unite Here Local 2850, which represents about 200 employees at the airport, said the date and length of a strike haven’t yet been set but workers plan to walk out at some point between Thanksgiving week and the end of the year.

Food and retail workers previously staged a one-day strike at the airport on Aug. 30.

The workers are employed by HMSHost, a Maryland-based company that won a 12-year contract for services at the airport, which is run by the Port of Oakland, in 2006. HMSHost runs food concessions at more than 100 airports around the world, according to the company’s website.

The employees have been working without a contract since July 2012.

Norr said veteran workers at the airport only earn $12 to $13 an hour and new employees only make $9.50 to $9.75 an hour.

She alleged that HMSHost is engaging in “regressive bargaining” by proposing reducing vacation and sick days, eliminating pensions and removing workers from the union’s affordable health insurance plan.

HMSHost spokesman Sam Singer said the company “has put a fair contract offer on the table that reflects the fact that air passenger levels at the Oakland airport have dropped by 33 percent in the last three years.”

Singer said he hopes that union leaders recognize “how bad it is at the Oakland airport” for HMSHost and other tenants and sub-tenants there, as their revenues have declined dramatically.

Singer said restaurants and stores at the airport remained open during the one-day strike in August and if the workers go on strike again HMSHost would keep them open again.

Airport food and retail workers planned to speak out about the contract talks at the Port of Oakland’s board meeting late today.

Norr said workers hope that the board can persuade HMSHost to make a better wage and benefit offer to their employees at the airport.

Marcia Voge, a union shop steward who has worked at the airport for 42 years, said before the meeting that negotiations with HMSHost are the most difficult she’s ever experienced, noting that food operations at the airport have been run by five different companies during her tenure.

“I’ve never seen a company negotiate in such bad faith,” Voge said.

Norr said airport workers are joining a growing movement of food and retail workers who are fighting for better pay and benefits.

She said workers at WalMart and fast food restaurants will coordinate with airport workers by participating in the airport workers’ picket line.

Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News

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