LEADING THE WAY The Union for Food Service Workers
From the terminals of LAX Airport to the luxury boxes of the Staples Center, Local 11 has organized food service workers throughout Southern California for more than 50 years.
In corporate cafeterias, airports, stadiums and universities, Local 11 members organize to protect and improve their jobs. Throughout history, big struggles and even bigger victoires have set high standards throughout the industry.
For example, the union’s “Respect at LAX” campaign, launched 15 years ago, has developed groundbreaking new strategies for improving the working conditions of airport concessions workers in North America.
When 300 UNITE HERE members at LAX lost their jobs in 1994 because the Airport Authority brought in new non-union operators, the union partnered with community and clergy leaders. Together they built a formidable coalition that over the next four years successfully lobbied the Los Angeles City Council and Airport Commission to pass a “Worker Retention Ordinance” and the nation’s first “Living Wage Ordinance.” All of the fired workers were also rehired.
Today, most of the food service and retail employees at the LAX, Ontario and John Wayne Orange County airports are members of UNITE HERE. Workers have become vocal and sophisticated players in the political process that affects their lives.
University of Southern California
The four-year struggle of Local 11 at the University of Southern California (USC) played a major role in defining Local 11 as a leader in the movement for social justice in LA. From 1994-1998, a coalition of workers, students, faculty, clergy, community organizations and elected officials took on the single largest private employer in the City of Los Angeles and won. Many in the fight called it a “David and Goliath contest,” pitting a university with an endowment that was worth $1.5 billion at the time, and a board of trustees packed with a host of powerful corporate leaders against a group of 500 mostly immigrant food service workers.
The USC workers went on strike four times during the three-year struggle and engaged in at least 10 civil disobedience actions at graduation ceremonies and University trustees’ offices.
The workers’ courage galvanized the community. As the workers fasted for three days at a time while still going to work every day, Local 11 President Maria Elena Durazo fasted for 11 days and then passed the fast to a succession of labor leaders, students and faculty, elected officials, clergy, celebrities and community activists in the “Rolling Hunger” campaign.
The USC Administration ultimately backed down. Today, USC food service employees continue to work directly for the University and have preserved all of their benefits. They recently renewed their union contract in 2009 with a guarantee of free family health care and great raises.
Presently, the workers from SkyChefs and Gate Gourmet — the folks that prepare and deliever the food to major airlines and major retailers such as Trader Joe's and 7/11 — are following in the tradition of other LAX employees. Hundreds of these workers in Southern California are stepping out of the shadows to explain what it’s like working in this industry. In 2005 workers helped keep both companies from going under. Gate Gourmet workers took wage and benefit cuts amounting to as much as 30 percent of their income and were left with a contract far worse than the ones they’d received a decade earlier. The same thing happened at Sky Chefs: wage cuts and freezes, reduced vacation and sick leave, frozen pensions and high-priced, low-quality medical insurance with extreme deductibles.
Since the give-backs, both companies have improved their financial picture. Workers' sacrifices helped save these companies. Now it’s time for them to help us save our health and families. We deserve fair wages, affordable health insurance and safe jobs. It’s time for Gate Gourmet and Sky Chefs to treat us fairly so we can all take care of our customers.