Phoenix Sky Harbor airport concessions workers begin second week of indefinite strike

·6 min read

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport concessions workers began the second week of their indefinite strike Monday.

HMSHost concessionaires have been on strike since Nov. 22 and have extended their permit with the Phoenix Aviation Department to strike through Dec. 29.

HMSHost workers' union Unite Here Local 11 continued to picket, chant and hold a drum line at Sky Harbor at terminals 3 and 4, affecting travelers there. Workers plan to march and chant at the Ticketing/Departures level and hand out "Strike Alert" leaflets at all pre-security gates.

Victoria Stahl, a Starbucks barista in terminal 4, has been striking since day one. She sacrificed her Thanksgiving with her family, including her mom who flew in from North Carolina, just to continue participating in the strike.

“On Thanksgiving, I didn’t spend it with my family, I spent it on the picket line because what we are fighting for out here is extremely important and is going to make a difference for me and my family," Stahl said.

HMSHost is one of two companies that manage restaurants at Sky Harbor. It operates almost half of the concessions in terminals 3 and 4 including Barrio Café, Blanco Tacos & Tequila, La Grande Orange, Shake Shack and Starbucks.

“We can’t understand why the Union would try to penalize the traveling public by calling a strike over the holidays," HMSHost executive vice president and chief human resources officer Laura E. FitzRandolph said in a statement Monday. "The Union is walking away from negotiations at a time when there is a contract on the table that is a win-win for workers and travelers. They are literally snatching defeat from the jaws of victory for all.”

'Incredibly difficult': Sky Harbor Airport concessions worker talks about decision to strike

What workers are hoping to gain from striking

This is the longest strike HMSHost workers at Sky Harbor have conducted since they began contract negotiations in 2017. HMSHost workers walked off the job for one day in September to protest what they called severe understaffing at the airport's restaurants.

This time around, according to a news release from Unite Here Local 11, workers are protesting HMSHost's unwillingness to meet their demands for fair raises, affordable health insurance, an employer-paid retirement plan and contract language for equal opportunity and protection from discrimination.

Workers, including Stahl, plan to strike indefinitely until HMSHost agrees to reach a contract that meets their demands, according to the union.

“We’re going to be on strike until HMSHost finally realizes and recognizes the importance of their workers and the value that we give," Stahl said.

According to HMSHost, the strike is "puzzling and counterproductive" as it offered Unite Here Local 11 a proposal earlier this month that would increase wages, raising many positions to over $15 per hour, and provide a healthcare plan that covers 90% of employee costs.

HMSHost said they believe the strike is about Unite Here Local 11's demand to get the company to transition from "a 401K plan that benefits all workers in favor of the out of state Los Angeles Hotel Restaurant Retirement Fund that benefits far fewer employees."

HMSHost's current 401K plan matches employee contributions up to 4.5%. The pension plan would require employees to work five years before they would get it, according to HMSHost.

The union also announced last week it is calling for a federal investigation into alleged racial pay gaps among its workers.

The union is alleging in part that Black workers on average made 67% of the total earnings of white workers in 2019 and that Hispanic workers took home on average 78% of the total earnings of white workers, based on company data for employees whose race or ethnicity and compensation information was provided.

HMSHost workers protest outside Terminal 4 on Nov. 22, 2021, at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
HMSHost workers protest outside Terminal 4 on Nov. 22, 2021, at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

Worker on strike says HMSHost is flying in managers from other states to work at airport

According to a statement from HMSHost, more than 85% of its employees have remained on the job. "Thanks to their efforts, it is business nearly as usual at most HMSHost locations at Sky Harbor," the statement said.

In an earlier statement last week, HMSHost said, "We are doing whatever it takes to minimize any inconvenience over this busy holiday travel time and have supplemented services with managers, temporary employees, and associates from other HMSHost locations, as well as increased our offerings of fresh, pre-packaged food items and self-pay stations."

A Sky Harbor spokesperson said two Starbucks locations and Zinburger in Terminal 4 have closed since the strike began.

But on Monday, Lucia Salinas, a cook at Cowboy Ciao who is on strike, told The Arizona Republic that HMSHost has flown in managers from other states to work at Sky Harbor.

"I’m very upset about that. It’s just very disrespectful. I’m very disappointed with this company. I’ve been trying, working so hard since the pandemic. We’re shorthanded, get sick too. A lot of coworkers got sick with COVID and they just didn’t care. We haven’t gotten a raise at all since 2017. We’ve been trying to negotiate since then and they’re wasting money on their managers traveling from somewhere, paying their hotels."

"They’re thinking we’re going to give up; no, we’re not," Salinas said. "I know they’re struggling in there. That’s why they’re calling other managers from another state so they can do our job because they cannot handle it."

HMSHost said in a statement it previously "raised wage rates by 16% and lowered healthcare costs without a contract."

When asked if managers were being flown in, HMSHost said it "has supplemented services with managers, temporary employees, and associates from other HMSHost locations" and that "the company has heard Unite Here Local 11 has flown in people from Los Angeles to staff the Phoenix picket lines."

Strike could continue through Christmas

HMSHost previously said it had been notified the strike would end Monday but now said it does not know when it may end.

Stahl feels the environment surrounding the strike has been supportive, gaining more people as the strike continues. She said travelers have also been showing their support.

“Yesterday I had some guy who was flying out of Terminal 3 but specifically asked to get dropped off at Terminal 4 so he could come by and get a sticker and a button.”

While Stahl believes the workers are gaining more confidence as the strike continues, it comes with its challenges. She feels, however, that the challenges are worth it for what they may get in return.

“Standing up for ourselves is scary, but we are fighting for our livelihood.”

Salinas said she is willing to strike through Christmas.

"I’m not gonna give up until we get something. The company has to know that we’re not gonna stop. It’s gonna take us to not be with my family on Christmas like on Thanksgiving? Well, that’s what it is. If I need to sacrifice that, that’s what I’m gonna do. I think if I keep going fighting I will win more than a Christmas my kids can have."

Reach breaking news reporter Caroleina Hassett at caroleina.hassett@arizonarepublic.com or on Twitter @lena_hassett.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Sky Harbor employees begin second week of strike against HMSHost

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