Sky Chefs workers fight for contract

PORTLAND, Ore.--More than 60 members of UNITE HERE Local 9 and other activists rallied in Glenhaven Park on April 8 in support of Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet workers. This was one of nine similar rallies that have taken place around the country, with another three planned. The rallies are part of a national effort to highlight the Sky Chefs workers' fight for a contract.

These workers make and deliver the food for most airlines, as well as retailers such as 7/11 and Trader Joe's. They are coming out of the shadows of the kitchens where they work to tell their stories.

In 2005, workers took huge cuts in wages and benefits--as much as 30 percent--when management appealed to them to make concessions to stop the companies from going under. This left them with a worse contract than they had a decade before.

Now, the companies have improved their financial situation, thanks in large part to workers' sacrifices, so UNITE HERE members are demanding the fair wages, affordable health insurance and safe jobs they deserve.

Workers at the rally told their stories of life under Sky Chefs. Management thinks it can use intimidation to get its way, and some immigrant workers have been frightened into not attending rallies. But this didn't deter people from coming out. With such chants as "Escucha, escucha, estamos en la lucha!" the crowd gave Sky Chefs workers renewed confidence.

At another rally in Miami, 300 Sky Chefs workers and community supporters rallied outside Concourse E at Miami International Airport. "I have come in day in, day out to do the best job I can for Sky Chefs," said Cruz Pena, according to a union report. "I agreed to cut my wages and benefits to keep the company moving when they asked. Unfortunately, they still haven't put an offer on the table that shows they recognize the sacrifice we made for them."

Negotiations have been taking place in Seattle between management and the union. But it is clear that the management had had to sit up and take notice of the organizing that has started to take place on the shop floor. A layer of young activists in the union is hoping that this will be the start of wider organizing campaign in the hotel and catering industry that has suffered too long from low wages, bad conditions and job insecurity.