HMSHost: Sky Harbor Airport concession workers, baristas go on strike

As Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport prepares for a busy holiday travel season, some of its workers have gone on strike.

The workers with HMSHost, a vendor that operates many of the restaurants and coffee shops inside the terminals, say that after four years of negotiations, they have had enough and voted on Nov. 18 to strike. The workers' union had been in negotiations with HMSHost since 2017.

Concession workers are seen picketing outside of Terminal 4, demanding a new contract with better pay and benefits.

"We are on strike, fighting for dignity and respect, and a fair contract," said Ari Berrong-Huber.

"We are not being heard. We're not being respected, and frankly, we're just not getting the things that we have worked for and that we've earned," said Victoria Stahl, who works at a barista at the Starbucks in Terminal 4. "It's just become very clear that we've gotten to a point where the things that we are asking for are falling on deaf ears with the company, with HMS."

HMSHost says it is trying to keep bars and restaurants open during the strike using managers and temporary employees. Restaurants will serve limited menu items, and more self-pay stations and vending machines will be added. 

The strike is expected to last at least until the Monday after Thanksgiving.

"Thanksgiving Day, workers will have a special program to give thanks to each other and for the solidarity of the community," an email read.

Workers aren't feeling appreciated.

"I just feel like they don't care about us, and we are making still money for them," said Lucia Salinas, a cook at the airport.

Workers say they are seeking a new contract that includes fair raises, affordable health insurance, company-paid retirement contribution, and protections for workers' tips.

"It feels disrespectful, we feel insulted, and it's time that we stand up to this company that we deserve, not just the wages, and the hours, and the benefits, but respect on the job," said Ari Berrong-Hueer.

"It's literally life or death for some of my coworkers, you know," said Stahl. "I have coworkers who have put off cancer treatments because insurance is expensive already, but with the co-pays and they don't get paid enough to, you know, pay for that, you're literally choosing between groceries or, you know, getting chemotherapy."

HMSHost officials say they are offering 12% wage increases and enhanced benefits, including paying 90% of their employee's health care costs. Company officials also issued a new statement on Nov. 21, which reads:

Some of the striking workers say what HMSHosts officials have offered are not enough.

"It comes down to respect," said Berrong-Huber. "We've worked this entire pandemic, folks pulling overtime shifts, working in grueling conditions, and to only receive $13 an hour feels insulting."

As the strike continues, some travellers are feeling the inconvenience caused.

"Yeah, I was surprised to see they were closed," said Alex Tomuta. "it seems like all these people are scrambling for a job and all these restaurants are closed. There's no reason for it. Plus, we just got off a long flight with a toddler, we’re looking for something to eat. It sucks."

The strike, however, was not a problem for those who weren't hungry.

"I didn't notice. I'm just in and out," said one traveller.

This isn't the first showing of outrage by the airport restaurants workers and baristas – in mid-September, dozens of employees walked off the job and marched with signs outside of Terminal 4. They said they were angry that they had to deal with severe staffing shortages as the travel industry rebounded from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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