SAN FRANCISCO INTL. AIRPORT (BCN/KTVU) - Less than half of food workers preparing meals served aboard three airlines flying out of San Francisco are able to afford the health care plans offered by their employers, union officials said Saturday.
"I prepare food and beverage for some of the world's biggest airlines, but I have to go to a free clinic because my company insurance is so expensive that I can't afford it," said Roberto Alvarez, who loads airline carts full of food and beverage at one of the two San Francisco International Airport kitchens that held strike votes this week.
In a statement released Saturday, LSG Sky Chef officials said they had not confirmed that the union had requested a release for the strike from the National Mediation Board, which is necessary before a strike can take place.
Some 1,500 workers at SFO voted this week to strike when released by the National Mediation Board, according to a union organizer for Unite Here Local 2. They work for LSG Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet, the subcontractors providing meals for United, Delta and American Airlines flights departing SFO.
Thousands more food service workers are taking part in similar votes in 21 other locations across the country. The union maintains there is a growing crisis around airline catering workers' health care and wages. They say people who load food and beverages onto planes are often living in poverty and unable to afford health care.
"I voted to strike when released because one job should be enough to have a good life," Alvarez said.
Unite Here Local 2 representatives estimate that less than 50 percent of the food service workers at SFO are covered by health care, and just 10 percent had a child or family member covered. The median wage for the workers is $18.66 per hour.
Sky Chef is negotiating in good faith with the workers, according to the company's statement, "Our company values the hard work and dedication of our team members. Wages, as well as other benefits, including vacations, uniforms and company provided meals, as well as health and welfare, are subject to the collective bargaining process between our company and their union representatives."
Gate Gourmet spokeswoman Nancy Jewell said in an email Saturday night, "While our goal is to reach a new agreement as quickly as possible, the negotiations process can be lengthy. In the meantime, we operate under the Railway Labor Act, which preserves the current terms and conditions of our existing National Master Agreement labor contract and prevents operational disruptions."