LAX Catering Workers Vote to Authorize a Strike for Higher Pay

March 17, 2023
Employees with Flying Food Group, which provides in-flight meals at Los Angeles International Airport, have voted to authorize a strike as they lobby for higher wages amid rising inflation.

Mar. 16—Employees with Flying Food Group, which provides in-flight meals at Los Angeles International Airport, have voted to authorize a strike as they lobby for higher wages amid rising inflation.

With 99% in favor, the 346 catering workers represented by Unite Here Local 11 voted Wednesday, March 15 to authorize a walkout. They allege one employee has endured sexual harassment on the job and also claim the company locked some of the emergency exits at their Inglewood plant last month as workers were preparing to stage a protest for higher wages.

"When multiple doors were bolted shut on the day of our picket, it felt like the company was treating us like animals and was trying to interfere with our union rights," said Gary Duplessis, 62, a cook at the facility and a complainant to Cal/OSHA.

Flying Food said Los Angeles County fire officials did a full inspection of the building and found no safety violations.

Most Flying Food workers are people of color, with some earning a base wage of $18.04 an hour. At that rate, someone would have to work 17 hours a day to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles, the union said.

Their collective bargaining agreement with the company expired in June 2022 and employees say little progress has been achieved in subsequent labor negotiations.

The workers haven't revealed when a strike might occur but say they're ready to walk off the job if need be.

"I will strike Flying Foods if we do not achieve a good contract for me and my family," said Norma Reyes, 51, who sets up equipment for the catering company. "I cannot live on these poverty wages and feed my family. This company must change how they treat us."

In a March 6 complaint filed with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, Flying Food employee Evelin Flores said her trainer, Manuel Avila, spread false rumors that they had a sexual relationship while continually trying to coerce her into starting one.

Flores said she filed multiple complaints with the company and was told on Dec. 14, 2022 that "appropriate action has been taken to ensure that such conduct does not repeat itself." Avila was ordered to complete a mandatory harassment training course, Flores said, but his behavior continued once the training was over.

"After what my trainer did, I felt anxious and helpless," the 37-year-old worker said. "I have thought about leaving my job, but I have five children and I have to provide for them."

Another employee, identified as M. Lopez, also filed a complaint with the state department. She alleges her supervisor, Ruben Salgado, has subjected her to "persistent abuse." He ensures that her male coworkers have help unloading heavy pallets, Lopez said, but fails to provide the same help for her.

She said Salgado often accuses her of failing to properly do her job when she hasn't done anything wrong and refers to her in a derogatory manner. On one occasion, Lopez said his "treatment was so unduly harsh that I could not stop shaking for some time after the incident."

Lopez said she filed several complaints with the company's human resources department, but no definitive action was taken and he remains her supervisor.

Representatives with Flying Food Group could not be reached Thursday. But the company emphasized last month that safety is "a top priority" at its Inglewood facility.

"We remain committed to maintaining a safe and healthy work environment for all of our employees and to fully resolving any matters with CAL OSHA to ensure the health and safety of our employees," the company said.


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