American Airlines

Food service workers picketing American Airlines headquarters say they live in poverty

About 300 union workers picketed on the edges of the American Airlines campus on Tuesday, demanding higher wages and job benefits for food service workers.

Police said they arrested about 60 of the workers who sat down and blocked a street into the campus in the 13900 block of Trinity Boulevard in Fort Worth. Those arrested were expected to face charges of obstructing a street, sidewalk or driveway, police said.

One of the workers who spoke before the protest began, Nia Winston, said wages for food service workers in this area are among the lowest in the country.

“Our goal is to escape poverty, not to disrupt travel,” said Winston, vice president of Unite Here, a union representing more than 300,000 members in the hospitality industry. “Workers are living in poverty while this airline is making millions.”

One of those arrested, Preston Strickland, a 58-year-old Arlington resident, said that he had been working for LSG Sky Chefs at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport for more than five years, but had not gotten $2 an hour in raises during that time.

“I make $11.35 per hour and it’s impossible for me to pay for all my bills,” Strickland said. “I’ve been homeless in the past because I couldn’t afford rent, and I don’t have health insurance because it’s too expensive.”

Preston Strickland
Union member and hospitality worker Preston Strickland, 58, of Arlington, says a lot of his co-workers at DFW Airport work two jobs and overtime to make ends meet. Strickland was arrested during the protest.

LSG Sky Chefs, the primary employer of the picketing workers in the Fort Worth area, said in an emailed statement that a negotiating team with the company and a federal mediator have been working since May to negotiate in good faith with the union representing its employees.

“Our company has offered improvements in wages, and is discussing numerous other issues covered by our collective bargaining agreement,” the statement said. “While this is a short period of time to negotiate a complex labor agreement, we feel progress is being made with the help of the federal mediator. We remain committed to negotiating in good faith, and we hope that union members will act lawfully as they exercise their right to demonstrate or protest.”

American Airlines said in a statement that it respects and supports the rights of workers to join a union and bargain collectively — adding that 84 percent of its team members are represented by unions.

“We believe in the collective bargaining process, and so we are confident that LSG Sky Chefs and Unite Here will come to an agreement that increases pay and benefits for LSG’s employees and ensures LSG can continue to operate successfully,” the airline’s statement said. “We understand that a new contract will, ultimately, increase the costs to LSG Sky Chef’s customers, including American. While we are not part of the ongoing negotiations, we urge both LSG Sky Chefs and Unite Here to bargain in good faith and get a deal done.”

Officials with American Airlines are in various stages of contract negotiations with employees including pilots, flight attendants and the mechanics unions.

While the food service workers are not direct employees of the airline, worker representatives say the airline is responsible for making sure the workers who serve their customers are sufficiently compensated, said Alyssa Osorio, a union representative picketing Tuesday.

Unite Here workers have voted to strike and asked to be allowed to strike by the National Mediation Board, the federal authority that gives transport workers the right to conduct a work stoppage. Should the federal mediation board agree to allow the food service workers to strike, a 30-day cooling off period would be observed before a walk-out took place.

“American Airline officials have no sense of urgency to make things rights,” said Robin Charbonneau, communications chair with the Association of Professional Flight Attendants. “American Airlines is not labor friendly.”

On Monday, American Airlines received some assistance from U.S. District Court Judge Charles McBryde in its negotiations with mechanics.

McBryde said there was merit in statistics compiled by American showing that starting earlier this year, workers began taking longer to fix planes and delayed more tasks, according to reporting from the Associated Press.

The judge wrote that the only reasonable explanation was that mechanics were acting deliberately to gain leverage in contract negotiations. He ordered the unions to tell workers to take all steps to avoid interfering with American’s operations.

American sued the Transport Workers Union and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in May. The unions denied wrongdoing.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram

Mitch Mitchell is an award-winning reporter covering courts and crime for the Star-Telegram. Additionally, Mitch’s past coverage on municipal government, healthcare and social services beats allow him to bring experience and context to the stories he writes.