Members of a labor union representing airline catering workers picketed outside Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on Tuesday afternoon, demanding better pay and affordable healthcare coverage.
The demonstration was the latest in a series of protests held this year by the union representing workers at LSG Sky Chefs, a catering company that provides in-flight meals for American Airlines. Organizers said by holding the demonstration at one of the country's busiest airports on one of the busiest travel days of the year, they hoped to get the attention of American Airlines executives, whom they blame for low pay and unaffordable insurance benefits.
"We feel like because we're the backbone of the catering operation, we should have affordable healthcare and better living wages," said Preston Strickland, who works in the catering service's cold foods department.
Of the roughly 920 employees who work for the catering service at DFW, 72% make below $15 an hour, according to the union. Some workers make as little as $9.85 an hour. Strickland, who has been with the company for about five years, said poor pay leads to high turnover.
"It's like a fast-food restaurant. It's a revolving door," he said. "People come in, they fill out the application, they work a week or two, they might even work a whole month, and at the end of the month, they're gone."
That high turnover means the company is constantly hiring and training new workers to staff its kitchens. But the workload gets shifted over onto employees who have been with the company for years and have experience in the industry. Most people who have been with the company long can't afford to leave because they have to provide for their families, he said.
By holding the demonstration during the Thanksgiving travel period, Strickland said the union hoped to let the traveling public see that the people preparing their in-flight meals were being treated unfairly.
Christina Hernandez, a production cook for the catering company, said she's been with the company for 30 years and is making $15.50 an hour. Workers with the company haven't seen a significant raise in about 10 years, she said. Hernandez said she often volunteers to go in to work on her days off just to make ends meet, and most other workers have to pick up overtime, as well, she said.
Hernandez said workers for the company take pride in what they do. They know they're working to feed travelers, and they work hard to prepare a quality product. But they shouldn't have to work overtime just to get by, she said.
"I like what I do. I wouldn't be doing it for 30 years if I didn't like what I did," she said. "... But at the same time, we would like to get paid."
LSG Sky Chefs, a subsidiary of German airline Lufthansa, did not respond to a request for comment.
The demonstration began on the sidewalk outside Terminal D. Demonstrators marched and chanted outside the ticketing area, wearing shirts and carrying signs saying "One job should be enough." Now and then, handfuls of passersby stopped on their way into the terminal to watch.
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As the event progressed, 10 protesters walked into the terminal's ticketing area, sat in a circle on the floor and chanted "DFW be aware, American Airlines is unfair!"
After a few minutes, an airport police officer warned the demonstrators that if they didn't leave immediately, they would be arrested. After a third warning, a group of officers circled the protesters. One by one, they placed the protesters' wrists in zip ties and led them to a police van.
Among those arrested was Heidi Sloan, a self-described socialist running in the Democratic primary for Texas' 25th Congressional District. In a statement, Sloan said she was demonstrating against "the owning class that robs workers of the value we create through our labor, and that fights tooth and nail to sabotage democracy in our workplaces and our economy."
“CEOs and shareholders would have no corporate profit to steal without the labor of workers,” Sloan said. “We create this wealth, and we create it together. With a strengthened labor movement and a fighting working class, we can win the power to keep it together too.”