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Airline Food Workers Stage SFO Protest

Condemning United Airlines’ efforts to question a vote to unionize

United Airlines Posts Quarterly Earnings Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A group of local SFO catering workers on whom United Airlines depends for its in-flight meals joined a national day of action against the airline today. The local protest and others at airports across the country condemned United’s perceived resistance to an effort to unionize its 2,700 dedicated food workers.

“We want everybody to know what United is doing to us is wrong — it’s not fair,” said Amelton Archelus, an airline kitchen worker based in Denver who came to SFO for the protest. Archelus, whose friends call him Archie, wants to join a union to work less demanding hours and earn better pay at a job he considers grueling.

A local union organizer for Unite Here, the union that workers like Archelus would join, told Eater SF to expect hundreds of protesters at SFO today from noon to 4:30 p.m, but clarified that services at the airport and meals on the airline would not be interrupted.

Catering workers were joined by flight attendants and more airline workers at SFO. With signs and chants, they criticized the group the airline’s effort to, in their view, undermine a successful majority vote that would let workers unionize. The airline has called into question an earlier vote’s validity, filing a fraud claim with the National Mediation Board to investigate whether union organizers coerced workers into voting to unionize. The fraud claim will certainly stall if not halt the process altogether.

United flights departing from SFO are provided their meals not by dedicated United kitchen employees, but by subcontractors whose workers, like Melieni Cruz, are already unionized. But that’s why Cruz, who works for the company Sky Chef, chose to use her day off to protest along with others at SFO today.

“Having the union behind us is very beneficial,” she says — though she still struggles with long hours and inadequate pay in the expensive Bay Area.

In its alleged anti-Union effort, Cruz suggests that United Airlines is exploiting not just its workers’ labor, but their limited english speaking abilities. In her Sky Chef kitchen in Millbrae, there are lots of language barriers — “we’re gesturing [to each other] most of the time, that’s hard already,” she says. A union can overcome those barriers so workers can engage in collective bargaining. ”To have a union is a plus for them, so they have someone to speak for them,” says Cruz.

Airline food workers in Newark, Houston, and Denver also joined the national action today, while more in Chicago interrupted an annual United company meeting to demand a union vote. A local union representative says that Unite Here isn’t ruling out the possibility of strikes at SFO and beyond to make achieve its goals.

“We all understand that airlines make tons of money, and I think everybody should have a share in the hard work they put in,” says Cruz.

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