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Airline Catering Staff Gearing Up to Strike as Summer High Seasons Starts

Low wages, lack of benefits and poor working conditions are setting off strike votes among food catering staff at hubs across the country.

Airline support workers in at various U.S. airports are in the midst of walk-outs or in preparation of a strike. In a similar move, EVA Air cabin crew are threatening to walk out on the job. All protests are over low wages and, in EVA’s case, reports of long hours and packed schedules.

This month, some 11,000 airline catering employees who prepare and manage the food and beverage supplies for millions of flight passengers are considering walking out on the job. Many make the minimum wage or less, and toil in harsh conditions with limited benefits. But collectively, they have the power to disrupt the air travel network.

Local union shops in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Boston, many who make between $15.75 and $20 an hour, claim they cannot make ends meet at that wage level and are counting on companies such as LSG Sky Chefs, which services major U.S. legacy carriers coming into to San Francisco International Airport, to come to the table. Lufthansa Service Holding AG is the world’s largest provider of airline catering and in-flight services. It is a subsidiary of Deutsche Lufthansa AG.

While some local service unions are voting overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, the day protests could begin is uncertain since the National Mediation Board has to release aviation workers first. The strike vote has been timed to come at the beginning of the high summer travel season. Shops in Washington D.D., Detroit, Dallas – some 21 major hubs — are taking action on this measure this week but a strike would not occur until the National Mediation Board, which facilitates the resolution of labor-management disputes in the rail and airline industries, authorizes it.

LSG Sky Chefs issued a statement Wednesday: “Our company values the hard work and dedication of our team members. Wages, as well as other benefits, including vacations, uniforms, and company-provided meals, as well as health and welfare, are subject to the collective bargaining process between our company and their union representatives. We are currently in negotiations regarding our collective bargaining agreement with the union, and we are continuing to negotiate in good faith.”

Separately, cabin crew employees through the Taoyuan Flight Attendants Union have decided to strike against Taiwanese carrier EVA Air. The strike comes after two rounds of negotiations with EVA failed to yield results. Chief complaints, according to reports, are overtime, long working hours and pay. A total of 5,933 union flight attendants participated in the vote earlier this week, with 4,038 flight attendants voting to strike. Nearly 3,000 of those flight attendants were reported to be from EVA.

No strike date has been given and strikes in Taiwan’s transportation industry are quite rare. However, pilots at China Airlines staged a week-long strike in February that resulted in 200 canceled flights and a loss of $16.2 million for the carrier. The rival carrier reportedly pays its union flight attendants around $1.70 an hour more than EVA pays. Union reps say a redesign of long-haul routes is needed to allow for overnight layovers instead of daily turnarounds that extend working hours and promote fatigue in flight attendants.

“[We] believe that pragmatic dialogue and rational negotiation are the best ways to resolve disputes,” EVA Air said in a statement.