Hundreds of union workers who prepare food for flights out of Miami International Airport are voting whether to strike for higher wages.
The workers employed by LSG Sky Chefs have been submitting ballots Thursday and Friday, and the union representing them—Unite Here Local 355—expects the vote to pass.
The employees include cooks who prepare food at kitchens near the airport to drivers who load the food on to American Airlines, Delta and United flights. The union says the workers make an average of $12.95 per hour. They want to see wages rise to at least $15 per hour.
“I’m looking for a second job all the time,” said Hector Nieto, who makes $11.60 an hour and helps transport food and supplies at one of the kitchens. “I’m coming from Cuba, and I’m coming here looking for a better future for me and my family, and I can’t because of Sky [Chefs].”
The nearly 1,100 workers in Miami join thousands of other Sky Chefs employees at airports across the country who are voting on a strike authorization.
If the votes pass, the workers cannot walk off the job immediately. They fall under the Railway Labor Act, which seeks to ensure that the railway and airline industries run smoothly. Any strike without permission from the National Mediation Board is therefore illegal.
Rose Metellus Denis, president of Unite Here Local 355, said she’s hopeful the board will grant approval. If the workers authorize the strike, the union said it will start organizing rallies at the airport beginning next week to put pressure on the board.
In a statement, LSG Sky Chefs said it 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,” it said.
The company added that it’s negotiating in “good faith.” But Denis argued that negotiations, which have continued since last year, have produced no progress.
The union said 93 percent of workers in Miami earn less than $15 per hour and many work overtime. Only 19 percent have employer-provided health insurance. Union organizers said wages should increase especially given that the airlines receive billions in combined profits per year.
“The workers have been suffering for so long,” Denis said. “That’s why we gonna do any kind of legal action it’s going to take us."