ST. PAUL — Airline catering workers from the Twin Cities area held a protest against Delta Airlines at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Tuesday, Nov. 26, saying that the company is to blame for their purportedly low wages and costly health insurance plans.
More than a dozen such protests were organized at other airports throughout the United States on Tuesday during the travel-heavy Thanksgiving holiday. A record-breaking 26.8 million passengers are expected to pass through airport checkpoints nationwide between Nov. 22 and Dec. 2, according to the U.S. Transportation Security Administration.
The protest at MSP came in the midst of national labor contract negotiations between LSG Sky Chefs, which employs several hundred of the airport's catering workers, and hospitality union Unite Here. In a statement, the union's local chapter claimed that many of the Sky Chefs workers it represents make less than $15 an hour and struggle to afford health insurance.
Approximately 488 employees work for the company at MSP, according to the union.
Among the union's demands is an hourly pay rate of $15 for new employees. A proposal to raise MSP workers' wages to that minimum is currently being considered by the Metropolitan Airports Commission, which owns and operates the airport. Standing outside of an airport terminal on Tuesday evening, Jemal Dube said the proposal might help to force Sky Chefs' hand.
"We need a fair and a good contract," Dube said. "That's what this is about."
Dube said he has been working for Sky Chefs at MSP for approximately 13 years. He said that he started out as a driver, a job that he said paid slightly less than $15 an hour, and today makes around $19 an hour as a transportation coordinator.
Even with that raise, he said, the $400 he pays each month for his company's health insurance plan puts a strain on his household budget. To keep health care costs down, he said that he often avoids the doctor's office so that his children can go instead.
"I never go myself," he said.
After moving inside to the walkway above the Delta's front desk, other protesters were similarly outspoken in their calls for more affordable insurance plans. Several dozen people took part in the rally.
"What do we want? Health care!" they shouted as passengers and flight desk workers looked on from below. "When do we want it? Now!"
Although Sky Chefs provides meals and beverages to several other airlines that operate out of MSP, workers said they targeted Delta because it is the largest that the company contracts with at the airport. Protesters at other airports each called on their respective largest customers to pressure Sky Chefs into resolving the dispute.
In a statement, Sky Chefs said it is has been "negotiating in good faith" with Unite Here and a federal mediator since bargaining talks began in May.
" Our company has offered improvements in wages and is discussing numerous other issues covered by our collective bargaining agreement," the statement continues. "We feel progress is being made."
The Twin Cities chapter of Unite Here and others previously voted to authorize a strike should negotiations reach an impasse. The Metropolitan Airport Commission will hold public hearings on its own minimum wage proposal in January, according to a spokesman.