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Here’s What to Know About the Food Workers’ Strike at SFO

Are any restaurants open? How long will the strike last? We’ve got answers.

A group of people with signs.
Workers are on day two of a strike to demand better pay and health care from the San Francisco International Airport.
Ted Waechter
Paolo Bicchieri is a reporter at Eater SF writing about Bay Area restaurant and bar trends, coffee and cafes, and pop-ups.

People traveling through San Francisco International Airport (SFO) likely have lots of questions and concerns given the ongoing strike by the airport’s food workers, which began September 26. Tuesday morning, the union Unite Here Local 2 tweeted “One day STRONGER!” In short: the union’s representatives confirmed that more than 1,000 workers on strike have every intention of continuing the demonstration.

Since Monday, various interested parties at SFO are still trying to figure out the best way to go forward. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will hold a hearing on Tuesday, September 27, to investigate working conditions at SFO. But practical questions remain: How long is the delay at airport security? Do I really have to pack my own food?

Here are five things to know before heading to SFO this week.

The strike could go on for a while

Ted Waechter, the media representative for Unite Here Local 2, says he doesn’t know how long the strike will last — he says it depends on when the airport gives in to workers’ demands regarding wages and health care. “We are prepared to strike for as long as it takes. This is about our livelihoods and families, which motivates people more than a corporate bottom line,” Waechter says.

The strike comes at the end of a nine-month negotiation between Unite Here Local 2 and SFO. The protest seems to have inspired a parallel protest elsewhere in the Bay; TWU Local 556, the union representing 18,000-plus flight attendants of Southwest Airlines, plans to protest at Oakland International Airport regarding higher pay and on-the-job safety. According to the San Francisco Business Times, the Oakland picket is one of 11 planned across the country on September 27.

There are some options for food and drinks

Airport representatives wrote in a statement on SFO’s website Monday that newsstands are unaffected by the strike, meaning travelers can get snack items and drinks at those outlets. But as of September 27, those kiosks seem to be the only food and drink options the airport will confirm are open — airport restaurants are open or closed depending on staffing. The San Francisco Business Times reports Doug Yakel, public information officer for SFO’s External Affairs Office, told the outlet restaurant staffing changes shift by shift.

A coffee shop with no one staffing it.
The Peet’s at SFO, closed in the middle of the day, photographed on September 26.
Ted Waechter

But most restaurants are closed, so plan accordingly

Waechter says while he doesn’t know an exact percentage, most restaurants are closed — even more than Monday — and the few that are open have enormous lines. “Customers say the offerings are limited and passengers are relying on newsstands,” Waechter says. “I’d advise travelers that it’s very difficult to get fresh food at SFO right now and pack their own lunch. Drink your coffee on the way to the airport, and bring an empty water bottle.”

A few outlets confirmed to be closed include:

  • Koi Palace
  • Peet’s
  • Burger King
  • SF Giant’s Clubhouse
  • The United Club

Owners and managers are filling in to keep restaurants open

To fill in for unionized workers on strike, non-union employees and owners are stepping in to keep the lights on. For Goldilocks Filipino Cuisine, operations never stopped. Iva Chen, director of business development for Lady Luck Gourmet, which owns Goldilocks, said via Instagram DM that she flew up from Los Angeles to work the line with non-unionized managers until 10 p.m. The restaurant is open today, despite union members pressuring Chen and her fellow staff, she says. “The economics that the union is requesting doesn’t make sense. We can’t make money appear out of thin air,” Chen said via message.

People with signs in a line.
District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman joined workers on September 26 outside SFO.
Ted Waechter

Bargaining between the airport and workers is ongoing

SFO took to Twitter on September 27 to update flyers on negotiations. “Action involves negotiations b/t restaurant/lounge operators & Unite Here Local 2 representing food workers for a new contract. SFO in contact w/both parties to encourage a resolution and avoid further disruption,” the tweet reads. On September 27 the account also posted a mini-profile of an SFO worker, Gloria Portillo.

Koi Palace

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