Flight catering workers raise stakes in labor contract talks

Gate Gourmet facilities at Hartsfield-Jackson on Tuesday, June 25, 2019.

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Gate Gourmet facilities at Hartsfield-Jackson on Tuesday, June 25, 2019.

Airline catering workers in Atlanta and at other airports across the country have indicated a willingness to strike, which does not mean a strike is planned but is aimed at ratcheting up pressure in labor contract negotiations.

According to unions representing more than 25,000 workers at Gate Gourmet and LSG Sky Chefs in 28 cities across the country, workers voted to authorize a strike if they are cleared by the National Mediation Board to take such an action. More than 11,000 workers cast votes on the matter, according to the unions.

Airline labor negotiations are governed by the National Mediation Board under the Railway Labor Act, which requires unions to pass a series of hurdles before they are authorized to call a strike.

The workers who prepare, pack and deliver food and beverages to planes at U.S. airports are represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, UNITE HERE and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

UNITE HERE said it plans to request a release to strike from the National Mediation Board later this summer. If granted, a 30-day cooling off period would then be required.

“Catering workers refuse to sit back and watch airlines like American, Delta and United earn billions in profits while workers barely scrape by,” said UNITE HERE International president D. Taylor in a written statement. “Now is the time for one job to be enough in the airline catering industry.”

Atlanta-based Delta is catered by Gate Gourmet at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, where workers have voted to authorize a strike if released to do so, while negotiations and mediation continue.

Gate Gourmet issued a statement saying it “continues to work in good faith” with the union and mediators “to make improvements for our people across wages and benefits as we have in the past.” The company added, however, that “the negotiations process can be lengthy” and that the Railway Labor Act preserves terms under the current labor contract and prevents operational disruptions.

LSG Sky Chefs also issued a statement saying it continues to negotiate in good faith and noting that employees are prohibited from legally striking without a formal release from the National Mediation Board.