On June 13, airline food workers who prepare, pack and deliver food and beverages served onboard Delta Air Lines flights departing from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) voted 99.7% tgo strike when released by the National Mediation Board. Food workers are represented by UNITE HERE Local 17.
Christa Mello, President of UNITE HERE Local 17, stated, “That workers voted 99.7% yes to strike when released should send a strong message to Delta Air Lines. MSP is one of their hubs but some food workers serving them here earn even less than the City of Minneapolis minimum wage. This has reached a crisis level at MSP—airline catering workers in the Twin Cities need meaningful changes, and they need them right now.”
The strike vote at MSP was part of the largest such vote ever to occur in the U.S. airline catering industry, with thousands of workers voting in 21 cities across the country.
Negotiations are ongoing but have failed to secure offers to improve wages and health care benefits for airline catering workers in the Twin Cities and elsewhere. Meanwhile, the three largest airlines in the country, American, Delta, and United, earned $50 Billion in combined profits over the past five years alone. The profits are on the backs of a variety of employees including food workers. The majority of food workers still earn less than $15 per hour including some with 30, 40 and even 50 years of service.
“I voted yes because I make only $11.15. I can’t afford an apartment of my own, so I live with coworkers. I also can’t afford any health insurance. It’s not right, and we’re determined to see a change,” said Nurto Ali, a sanitation employee in the MSP kitchen.
Healthcare is another topic that is agitating workers. With poverty wages and family health insurance premiums over $500 per month, many airline catering workers face impossible choices between their health and their bills.
Nationally, only 34% of workers at the two largest airline catering subcontractors were covered by employer-provided health insurance in 2018. Only 7% had a child or family member covered by employer-provided health insurance. The situation in Minneapolis reflects these national trends.
Jemal Dube is a flight dispatcher at the MSP kitchen. “I’ve worked serving the airlines here for 12 years. I’m out on the tarmac in cold Minnesota winters and hot summers. I work overtime making sure your flight has what it needs before takeoff,” Dube said. “Delta depends on my work, but even after I pay over $350 a month to cover just me and my kids on healthcare, I still get medical bills constantly. I voted yes to strike when released because one job should be enough for all workers in the airline industry.”
The workers are members of UNITE HERE Local 17 and employed by LSG Sky Chefs, the largest airline catering subcontractor in the United States. They will participate in their first public informational picket line post-vote on June 20 at MSP.