Orlando Airport Workers File Federal Complaint Alleging Layoffs, Threats Over Union Support

July 21, 2020

Restaurant workers at Orlando International Airport have filed a complaint with the National Labor Board alleging employees were let go because they supported a union drive.

Unite Here Local 362, part of the largest union of hospitality employees nationwide, is in the process of organizing the Orlando airport’s HMSHost locations. The union submitted charges last week to the labor board accusing the concessionaire of firing or temporarily laying off workers in retaliation for the organizing effort.

Workers for HMSHost, which operates 27 food outlets and employs about 800 people at the airport, told the Orlando City Council on Monday that their request for a mail ballot election was denied by the company and only 10% of workers are eligible to vote because the others are furloughed by the pandemic.

The pandemic has hit the airport hard. Before the pandemic, there were about 70,000 outbound passengers per day, but that trickled down to a couple thousand when the virus first hit in March and April. Now the airport has around 20,000 outbound passengers a day, according to officials.

Mayor Buddy Dyer, who sits on the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority board that oversees the airport, expressed sympathy for the hardship of airport workers but said the city council doesn’t have the authority to take action regarding the election complaint.

Several workers spoke to the council asking for support of their election request.

UCF student Emily Geary said she was furloughed in April from her job as a Starbucks barista. Her sister and father also lost their airport jobs. Her grandmother tested positive for COVID-19 last week and the family is struggling to take care of each other, she said.

“The uncertainty is causing us a lot of emotional and economic difficulty,” she said. “I’m worried I will not be called back to work because of the fact that I spoke out positively about the unionization effort.”

Maria Gonzalez, who worked as a Sbarro’s cashier, said she was told she can’t participate in the election because of her furlough in March.

“I’m angry about this,” she said. “I believe the city council should support our right to vote.”

An HMSHost spokesperson said in a statement that the company “can unequivocally say that no associate has been fired or furloughed due to union activity. That could not be further from the truth.”

The concessionaire said the sharp drop in airport passenger traffic caused 90% of its Orlando workforce to be furloughed and that travel rates have been slow to recover. In March, 150 restaurant workers at OIA were laid off.

HMSHost did not address questions about the election in its statement. The labor board has not ruled on the union’s request to include furloughed workers.

The workers spoke during public comments about an agenda item for the city to help Orange County process application requests for money funded by the CARES Act.

“While they may not directly had a discussion on [the agenda], I thought it was important to give them an opportunity just to show us how people are suffering,” Dyer said.

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