LAX Catering Workers Launch Unfair Labor Practice Strike

April 11, 2023
Following months of labor unrest, employees of Flying Food Group launched an unfair labor practice strike Monday, April 10, claiming they’re underpaid and are in danger of losing their health benefits.

Following months of labor unrest, employees of Flying Food Group launched an unfair labor practice strike Monday, April 10, claiming they’re underpaid and are in danger of losing their health benefits.

The catering workers provide in-flight airline meals at Los Angeles International Airport and are represented by Unite Here Local 11. They also allege the company hasn’t taken action to protect female workers from sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination.

Cooks, porters and drivers walked out at 3 a.m. and began marching in front of the company’s facility, at 901 W. Hillcrest Blvd. in Inglewood.

Flying Food disputes the union’s claims, saying it has addressed the complaints and offered a competitive pay proposal.

The employees’ primary aim is to secure a significant raise to keep pace with the soaring cost of living in Los Angeles. Many workers, most of whom are people of color, are supposed to earn $18.04 an hour. That’s the minimum wage (including health benefits) offered to Los Angeles World Airports contract workers under the city’s living wage ordinance.

Employees without health benefits should earn a base wage of $23.81 an hour per the ordinance, but Unite Here officials say they’re being underpaid.

Flying Food is supposed to contribute $5.77 an hour toward workers’ health care coverage but the company has opted to provide its own coverage with a company contribution of $4.50 an hour, the union said. That leaves an hourly gap of $1.27.

Flying Food worker Norma Reyes, who packs untensils, plates, glasses and other items needed for flights, has been with the company for 12 years and says she still earns $18.04 an hour.

“I’m outraged,” the 51-year-old Hawthorne resident said. “I only got a 32 cent raise during the five years before we became unionized in early 2016. We’re fighting for every cent the company is supposed to be paying us.”

Rafael Leon, a cook with Flying Foods, was among the workers picketing the Inglewood facility Monday.

“My main concern is the pension,” the 47-year-old Hawthorne resident said. “My 401(k) went down 30% and the company doesn’t want to keep paying for our health insurance, either.”

Leon said the situation is frustrating.

“This makes me sad and angry at the same time,” he said. “I’ve worked for this company for 10 years, working a lot of 10-hour days. This really gets me upset.”

With 99% in favor, the more than 350 catering workers represented by Unite Here Local 11 voted March 15 to authorize the walkout. Their contract expired in June 2022.

A bargaining session was held Friday, April 7, the union said, but it yielded no tanglible results.

In a statement issued Monday, April 10, Flying Foods said it met with Local 11’s bargainingcommittee and presented a competitive offer that includes “no-cost health insurance to employees, the largest wage increase we have ever offered to our employees in Los Angeles and access to an in-house medical clinic at our Los Angeles facility.”

The union declined to negotiate or provide a counter proposal, the company said.

“Rather, it ended the bargaining session early,” the statement said. “Local 11 has also declined to agree to future bargaining dates.”

In complaints filed against the company, workers say they have endured sexual harassment and gender discrimination on the job. They 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.

Flying Food said it never blocked any fire exits at the Inglewood facility and didn’t attempt to prevent the workers’ protest. The company said one non-fire exit door that was unusable due to a broken locking mechanism was temporarily secured until repairs could be made.

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.

Avila was ordered to complete a mandatory harassment training course, Flores said, but his behavior continued once the training was over.

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” and refers to her in a derogatory manner.

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

Unite Here Local 11 Co-President Susan Minato said the multitude of complaints surrounding Flying Food sets it apart from other businesses the union represents.

“You’re always going to have labor disputes between companies and unions,” she said. “But it’s uncommon to have two sexual harassment complaints, at least six unfair labor practice complaints and at least four wage complaints. It’s companies like this that push people to the edge.”

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