Sky Chefs workers rally for justice

August 16, 2010

PORTLAND--Approximately 60 Sky Chefs workers, members of UNITE HERE Local 9, and their supporters rallied across the road from their workplace by Portland's airport.

LSG Sky Chefs is the main suppliers of meals to most airlines and some retail outlets like Trader Joes, and has facilities around the country. Portland's rally was one of 10 that took place around the country. Workers have been fighting for a new contract for 10 months, with a stubborn management that doesn't want its profits dented.

Most workers are paid minimum wage and are forced to work long overtime hours. Management tries to take advantage of the fact that many of the workers are immigrants, so union representation is especially important for them.

Workers gave concessions a few years ago when the company was in a serious financial crisis. Now, the company is back making big profits, and union members are demanding an improvement in pay and health care benefits.

On one recent day, workers turned up at work and placed Band-Aids over themselves to show management how much they are being hurt by its intransigence. The action rattled the management, highlighting the unity of union members.

Workers inside Sky Chefs waved as union members outside chanted, "Who's in the fight? Local 9! Who's gonna win? Local 9!" and "Escucha, escucha, estamos en la lucha" ("Listen, listen, we are in a struggle"). The workers' confidence was shown by the increased participation in the rally.

Bob Marshall of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 addressed the crowd and pledged the solidarity of the union's 19,000 members and workers. Other speakers from UNITE HERE Local 9 and Jobs with Justice also spoke.

Phu Lieu, originally from Vietnam, has worked at Sky Chefs for 10 years. Addressing the rally in both Vietnamese and English, he described how, four years ago, workers gave up so much to help the company, but now it is time for the company to give back what was taken.

Eric Shierman, a Sky Chefs worker and union rep, gave a demonstration of unity when he handed a fellow worker a pencil and got him to break it. But when he gave 19 pencils, they could not be broken. "When members stick together," Eric said, "they can never be broken."

In an interview, Shierman said, "Sky Chefs claims they are struggling because their customers are struggling. It is true that several airlines have financial troubles, but Sky Chefs is a darn near monopoly--selling to both winners and losers--and is making a bucket load of money. It's time to share it."

The rally has shown the willingness of more workers to get involved in this struggle for dignity and a decent contract. The sense of unity could be felt in the air and the solidarity showed that victory can be won.

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