Oakland Airport food workers demand union recognition

Oakland, Calif. — Low-wage concession workers at Oakland Airport held protests on Jan. 25 both inside and outside the air terminals. They are urging people to boycott Burger King, Subway, Gordon Biersch, See’s Candies, Jamba Juice and five other airport vendors until the employers recognize their union and pay union wages and benefits. Some 50 pickets chanted: “Come on people (Yeah!), Tell the story (Yeah!), Tell the whole damn world this is union territory!”

The employer is HMS Host, which operates the various brand-name stores at the airport. UNITE HERE Local 2850 has a union contract for the majority of concessionaires, but HMS Host is dragging its feet on the remaining 10 holdout stores.

Last November, the airport concession workers voted almost unanimously to authorize a strike during the December holiday season according to union organizer Monica Guzman. The Port of Oakland, which operates the airport, responded by agreeing to lean on HMS Host to negotiate fairly with the union, and the strike was called off.

“But there was no follow-through by the Port or the employer, and that’s why we’re out here picketing,” said Guzman. “So they don’t go to sleep again.”

A union flyer quoted Danielle, a worker at the airport’s Jamba Juice outlet, as saying, “I got fired after I spoke out for my rights. Union workers at the airport have health benefits, job security and respect. We workers at the nonunion shops don’t have any of that.”

A half-dozen of the demonstrators were members of a coalition seeking Justice for Alan Blueford, a young African-American man killed by Oakland police last May. Local 2850 is one of several unions that have passed resolutions demanding that the police officer who killed Blueford be fired from the force and charged with murder. This is a welcome instance of real labor-community cooperation to oppose the national and local epidemic of police brutality directed at the Black and Latino/a communities. The Occupy Oakland Labor Solidarity Committee was also on the picket line.