HMSHost: Sky Harbor Airport concession workers, baristas end 10-day strike

Restaurant workers at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport are back on the job after going on a 10-day strike amid a busy travel season.

While people are going back to work, they say they're also planning to continue their negotiations.

"The workers are what make Sky Harbor the friendliest airport. Throughout these last 10 days, I think it's shown how important and vital we are," said Victoria Stahl.

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.

During the strike, the union filed multiple unfair labor practice charges against HMSHost for allegedly violating their right to organize and strike.

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

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

Now that the busy Thanksgiving holiday has passed, union workers say they have achieved their goal of bringing more attention to their struggles.

"Our intention with our strike was to bring more attention to the company’s stinginess after four years of negotiations, and to do it at a time when the company would be forced to recognize the value of our labor most - Thanksgiving," said Stahl, in a prior statement. "We did that and now we are ready to go back to the negotiating table."

Workers say they feel unappreciated, ignored

"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 said it tried 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 was 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 went on, some travelers 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 traveler.

During the strike, Stahl said they received a lot of support.

"I think at the end of the day, we were just so overwhelmed with the amount of the support we received from travelers, not only heading into the airport but stopping by our picket line to tell us they support us," said Stahl.

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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