A potential labor stoppage by nearly 900 airline catering workers in Dallas-Fort Worth could have a “ripple effect” across the country, leading to flight delays and cancellations during the busy summer travel season.
The caterers, part of the Unite Here union that represents 18,000 workers at airports across the country, will cast votes next week on whether to strike — if a federal agency that regulates interstate commerce gives them authority.
At DFW International Airport, the employees work for American Airlines subcontractor LSG Sky Chefs, one of the world’s largest airline catering services. Gate Gourmet is the industry’s other major food supplier.
The companies’ workers are paid some of the lowest wages in the airline industry, at a time of record profits and healthy pay raises for other employees. Many of the workers are immigrants to the U.S.
Stephanie Kopnang, 28, came to Texas from the central African country of Cameroon three years ago and began working for LSG Sky Chefs. She makes $10.85 an hour at her job. If she doesn’t work overtime, Kopnang said, she cannot afford her rent and monthly bills.
“We are not asking for something they’re not able to do,” she said. “We are a part of the airline industry, too, just like flight attendants and others.”
Airline caterers have been negotiating for a new contract since October 2018. The union wants higher wages and more affordable health insurance.
The workers don’t fall under the same set of rules and regulations as most private sector employees. Their work rules are governed by the Railway Labor Act, which is intended to ensure minimal disruptions in the rail and airline industries because of the importance of interstate commerce.
The act prevents them from striking, unless they are given a rare release from mediation by the National Mediation Board. Next week’s vote in 21 cities is the first step in the process.
As North Texas air travelers have seen already this year, labor negotiations can spill into airline operations, bringing on frustrating delays or canceled flights. Southwest Airlines mechanics won a new contract after the Dallas-based carrier saw a spike in maintenance write-ups that grounded planes.