Airline Catering Employees Win Coverage Under Quality Standards Program at SFO
Over 1,200 employees of the companies who supply on-board food for airline passengers at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) will see improved benefits through the airport’s wage and benefit policy, known as the Quality Standards Program (QSP). The San Francisco International Airport Commission voted October 13 to expand the QSP to include airline catering employees.
The QSP requires companies to pay covered employees a minimum wage rate of $0.50 per hour higher than that provided under the San Francisco Minimum Compensation Ordinance, and to comply with San Francisco’s Health Care Accountability Ordinance. Under the revision approved by the Airport Commission, airline catering staff will be eligible for wage and benefits levels commensurate with employees who perform safety and security functions, which currently include airline ground workers, baggage handlers, and service providers such as wheelchair operators.
Airport Director John L. Martin said, “I am grateful to the Airport Commission for approving this revision to our Quality Standards Program. Since its creation in 1999, this program has proven effective in reducing high employee turnover, while improving training standards for employees at SFO. The QSP reflects my belief that the entire employee community at SFO must work together to provide the highest level of safety and security. This community is comprised of airlines, the many airline service providers, and thousands of employees working collectively to continually enhance safety and security for the 48 million annual passengers we serve at SFO.”
When it first launched, the QSP covered a combined 1,700 employees. With the latest revision, the QSP will apply to 12,500 employees. Independent third-party studies have confirmed that the QSP, specifically the wage component, has decreased the turnover rate and increased effort and performance for covered employees.
San Mateo County Central Labor Council Executive Secretary-Treasurer Shelley Kessler said expanding the QSP to include airline catering workers is a great victory. “It will really lift up a lot of workers,” she said. Kessler noted that the Airport Labor Coalition unions who worked on the SFO Organizing project in 1999 had talked about including the catering workers in the QSP.
The workers at Gate Gourmet, Sky Chef and Flying Food Group are represented by the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE Local 2). The union’s President, Anand Singh, said including airline catering employees in the QSP will lead to a major wage increase for the lowest paid workers. “Some make just above the state minimum wage, so they will see an increase of $3 an hour,” he said. “This is a major step forward in our campaign to improve wages and working conditions for these workers.”
Singh said, “Jobs have been slashed, and as airlines have recovered, these workers have been left behind.” Many work in sweatshop-like conditions, in what are basically food factories, he said, and some work in buildings where the temperature is only 40 degrees. Chicago-based Flying Food Group runs 20 production kitchens in the U.S., including its facility in Burlingame. The 400 workers at Flying Food Group had voted to strike. Singh said about 1,200 workers would be impacted by the expansion of the QSP.
Several catering workers testified at the Airport Commission meeting October 13, telling about their working conditions and their struggles to survive on low wages. Flying Foods CEO David Cotton also spoke in support of extending the QSP and arranged transportation for the employees. Association of Flight Attendants representative Stan Kiino spoke in support of the workers, noting that while they may be an invisible workforce, they provide an essential service to passengers and flight crews.
Former HERE Local 2 president Mike Casey told Airport Labor Coalition members October 15 that the union is continuing to work on improving working conditions, health care coverage, and pension benefits for the workers at the industrial kitchens.
A press release from SFO noted that, “SFO’s industry-leading QSP was first established in 1999, in part, to address the high turnover rates among security screeners, who at the time—prior to the establishment of the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA)—were airline contract employees. The average tenure for these contract employees was roughly six weeks. The Airport’s program established training, equipment, and compensation and benefits standards for airlines and service providers whose employees perform services impacting safety and security at SFO. Over the years, airlines have increased the contracting out of safety and security-sensitive functions, and the importance of the QSP to maintain high standards of safety and security has only grown.”
Shelley Kessler said expanding and improving the QSP is a result of many years of organizing by airline industry union members, and working with airport staff.
- Paul Burton