PHOENIX (AP) — A union representing the largest group of food service workers at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport went on strike Monday — during one of the busiest travel weeks of the year — to amplify concerns over wages, health insurance and retirement contributions.
HMS Host is the single largest concessionaire at the airport in Phoenix that served more than 45 million passengers annually before the coronavirus pandemic. Workers with UNITE HERE Local 11 voted overwhelmingly last week to go on strike.
The strike won't affect flights but will affect hungry travelers because HMS operates more than two dozen restaurants and coffee shops. The company said in a statement it will offer pre-packaged food and scale down offerings for sit-down service during the strike.
Airport spokesman Greg Roybal said most restaurants were open Monday.
“Today's activities are affecting less than 10% of the restaurants that would normally be open today,” he told the Arizona Republic.
The labor union said in a statement that four years of contract negotiations have failed, leading to strike. Workers are seeking raises, affordable health insurance, a company-paid retirement contribution and protection from discrimination, according to union officials.
HMS Host said it offered substantial wage increases, a bonus and benefits that include paying 90% of employees' health care costs. The union represents less than half of the company's hourly employees, HMS Host said.
“This is part of the most generous compensation package ever for Sky Harbor associates,” the company's statement said.
Lucia Salina, a cook at Sky Harbor, said she and her co-workers haven't received a raise since 2017 and they are struggling financially. She said the company's offers aren't enough and asked for understanding from travelers.
“We are working so hard during the pandemic, and I just feel like this company is not respecting us,” she told azfamily.com.
Mary Allums, who was traveling through Sky Harbor, told the news channel that the holiday is a good time for the workers to go on strike but that “it's inconvenient for people who don't have anything to do with it.”
The union said workers will remain on strike until HMS Host agrees to meet their demands, according to the union statement. The union represents between 450-475 of the workers, dozens of whom were on the picket lines in shifts Monday, spokesperson Rachele Smith said.
A one-day strike organized by UNITE HERE in September to protest understaffing at the airport's restaurants led to long customer lines at places such as Starbucks.