On May 23rd, the Union of Needle Trades, Industrial and Textile Employees, Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (UNITE HERE) organized a day-long rally to give the 2700 catering workers for United Airlines an opportunity to protest their corporate boss’s refusal to allow a vote to unionize. More than 75% of these workers voted in January for the right to unionize in an election that could have easily been held in March. However, an intense corporate anti-union campaign has, at least until now, denied the workers the right to vote on whether to unionize.
The rally was held simultaneously in 5 cities across the United States – at Newark’s Liberty International Airport, site of the largest United Airlines kitchen nation-wide; Honolulu, Chicago, Cleveland and Denver. This event shone light on a situation that needs to be publicized -- the working conditions, salaries and benefits of a workforce that is 95% black and Latinx and mostly women. Organizers say that United Airlines sees food service as a necessary expense and not a money-maker. Therefore, they try to pay the employees as little as possible, so have organized an ugly anti-union campaign.
Approximately 100 workers attended the event at Newark Liberty Airport while over 100 workers from all around the country attended the shareholders’ meeting in Chicago. The workers arrived in shifts, donned UNITE HERE t-shirts, picked up signs and gathered behind banners saying “United Airlines Doesn’t Care.” They wove their way up and down all three floors of Terminal C, chanting, making noise, handing out fliers about the day of solidarity and protest. Of course, while inside the workers marched in silent protest out of respect for their surroundings, a respect they believe isn’t being shown to them by their corporate bosses.
United Airlines makes $3.9 billion in annual profits and its CEO makes $19 million annually, so it is outrageous that women who have worked for United for 25-30 years still make just $11.15 an hour! Workers in Newark are forced to spend hours in the deep freeze in temperatures at around 33 degrees Fahrenheit. The workers are given flimsy plastic gloves and spend their hours at work wrapped in parkas and wearing thermal pants. The workers must work mandatory overtime if an unexpected flight lands outside of their regular hours.
UNITE HERE and the workers they represent will not stop their efforts until United Airlines allows the catering workers to vote on whether to join a union. They will not stop until the 2700 workers, the only non-unionized sector of those working for United Airlines, are no longer treated as second-class citizens and can form a union and start to close the gap between the highest paid United Airlines’ employee and its lowest paid workers.
The Hoffman for Senate campaign will continue to stand in solidarity with the catering/culinary workers of United Airlines!