Miami airport workers vote to seek a strike

Maya Lora reports:

In a two-day vote that ended Friday, workers at Miami Sky Chefs overwhelmingly voted to authorize their union, Unite Here, to request a strike. The vote drew a 72 percent turnout out of 874 employees and, among those who voted, 99.8 percent supported a strike.

Rachel Gumpert, the press secretary for Unite Here, said Miami is a key city for the national campaign because it is an airline hub.

Over the next week, voting will continue among thousands of Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet employees in over 20 cities nationwide. If the workers authorize Unite Here, the union will then request a strike with the National Mediation Board, which must approve any strike request by airport and airline employees. The process could take months.

Workers are seeking a $15 salary floor and more affordable health insurance. Unite Here said that currently, the average hourly salary for a Miami Sky Chefs worker is $12.25. And only 19 percent of employees were enrolled in company health insurance in 2018.

“We have workers who have been there over a decade who still don’t make $12 an hour,” Wendi Walsh, the secretary-treasurer for Unite Here Local 355 in South Florida, said. “So you know these workers don’t have a chance in Miami.”

Other airport employees are covered by the living wage requirement passed by Miami-Dade County in 1999. The ordinance covers businesses contracting with Miami-Dade, including businesses providing services at Miami International Airport. Last year, Miami-Dade commissioners extended that requirement for employees working in shops, restaurants and other vendors at MIA.

Sky Chefs is exempt from that rule, though. D. Marcus Braswell Jr., who was appointed to the county’s living wage commission, explained that Sky Chefs only has a permit with the county, not a contract. The company’s permittee status means it’s only bound by Florida’s minimum wage, which is currently $8.46. That’s about five dollars below the living wage requirement.

“I think that the spirit of our law is violated,” Braswell said. “We are charged with making sure that public monies go to companies that are paying a living wage.”

Miami International Airport declined to comment.