Airport workers strike and demonstrate across the country

Cashiers, baristas, bartenders, cooks and lounge attendants at San Francisco International Airport launched an indefinite strike over staffing and wages on Monday, closing most food concessions at one of the busiest airports in the country.

Flight attendants from United and Southwest airlines are expected to protest at 21 airports across the United States, including Guam, as well as in London on Tuesday to draw attention to workplace problems compounded by understaffing.

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Across the country, flight attendants and airport workers are responding to a storm of workplace issues related to pay and staffing levels. Air travel during the pandemic recovery has been blighted by hundreds of thousands of canceled and delayed flights, attacks on flight attendants and widespread desperation among airport workers and travelers.

While neither the strike by airport concession workers nor the protests by flight attendants are expected to disrupt air travel this week, these are the latest signs of upheaval in the country’s transportation sector, coming just weeks after railway workers narrowly avoided a strike fueled largely in part by nationwide labor shortages.

In the airline industry, airlines and air traffic controllers are constantly pointing fingers to avoid blame for disruptions as demand for air travel has rebounded. Airlines, in particular, are struggling to attract workers in a hot job market where less grueling jobs are easier to find, and federal data shows airlines are responsible for the high rate of cancellations. The airline industry is still down 54,000 workers from February 2020.

Lucinda To is one of 1,000 striking workers at San Francisco International, where she has worked for 20 years. She prepares buffets, washes dishes and clears tables in restaurants and the United Club lounge for weary travellers. It’s exhausting work that has only gotten harder this year, she said. With inflation at its highest level in 40 years, To said she had to work 60 hours a week at two airport catering jobs for $16.99 an hour to afford a two-bedroom unit. rooms in the Bay Area. His mortgage is $2,800 per month.

“Right now, on my salary, I make so little that I couldn’t even buy a meal in this airport, where hamburgers are $22,” To said. “I have to work two jobs to support my family. family, and I always work double shifts.”

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To, 61, regularly spends the night in his car at the airport, to save gas and pass the time between shifts that extend late into the night and start early the next day.

The strike at San Francisco International is expected to close “virtually all food and beverage outlets at the airport”, union leaders Unite Here Local 2 said, and the union is urging travelers to bring their own food. Food service workers are employed by more than 30 companies at 84 food and beverage outlets.

“San Francisco International Airport is advising travelers that a labor action by airport food workers is impacting staffing [at] restaurants and lounges,” said Doug Yankel, airport spokesman. “Some food and beverage outlets are closed, while others remain open with limited hours and offers.”

Additional protests among food service workers are planned, union officials said.

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Flight attendants from United and Southwest will protest Tuesday amid lengthy contract negotiations over wages, staffing levels and worker rescheduling when flights are delayed or canceled. Demonstrations will take place outside airports in Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Washington and other cities.

At United, flight attendants said their lives had been turned upside down by cancellations and delays, which regularly forced them to spend unpaid hours waiting on the phone with the airline’s scheduling services. Some attendants slept on cots at airports this summer because hotels were overbooked.

Workers said the delays are caused by a lack of staff within the scheduling division.

Scott Pejas, a United flight attendant in Chicago and president of his local Association of Flight Attendants chapter, said schedule disruptions have become the norm for flight attendants.

“We are mentally and physically exhausted, because instead of resting, we are waiting, on the phone, trying to figure out where we are going to spend the night or the layover,” Pejas said. “Flight attendants will land somewhere at 10 p.m. and have to wait on the phone for 1 a.m. to find out where they are going to sleep. We do not rest.

United spokesman Joshua Freed said the company was eager to reach a contractual agreement with the union to address flight attendant concerns.

“We’ve worked hard to reduce wait times for flight attendants to speak to a crew planner, including more hires and adding digital options for certain items,” he said. added.

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Lynn Montgomery, president of TWU Local 556, which represents 18,000 Southwest flight attendants nationally, said flight disruptions have become so routine that “workers are constantly working outside of their regular schedule”.

“I’ve never seen such discouraged flight attendants,” said Montgomery, who also worked as a flight attendant in the Southwest for 30 years. “They feel like they’ve given and given, and the company isn’t giving back. It’s much more investor-focused these days than employee-focused.

A Southwest spokesperson said the airline encourages employees to voice their opinions.

“Information picketing is common during contract negotiations, and we do not anticipate any disruption in service resulting from the planned protest by furloughed flight attendants,” the spokesperson said.

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