Workers at many of Los Angeles International Airport’s shops and restaurants could join picket lines over the Labor Day weekend after voting overwhelmingly Thursday to authorize a strike.
The cashiers, dishwashers, cooks, bartenders and other food workers are represented by Unite Here Local 11 and voted to authorize a strike by a 99% margin, the union said. Polling stations were set up at various LAX terminals early Thursday morning where workers could cast their ballots throughout the day.
Airport food workers have been in negotiations for more than a year since their contract expired June 30, 2022. They are employed by Areas, a concessionaire at LAX operating concepts including Homeboy Bakery, Dunkin Donuts, Urth Cafe, California Pizza Kitchen and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.
The union said some 450 airport workers employed by Areas might strike as early as this weekend. The strike vote puts added pressure on Southern California’s tourism industry during a busy holiday weekend already rocked by picket lines at major hotel brands. Striking hotel workers are also represented by Unite Here Local 11.
The company criticized the union’s push for strike authorization, arguing a lack of progress toward a contract is a result of the union rebuffing or ignoring the company’s pleas to schedule bargaining sessions.
Airport workers are demanding higher pay to keep pace with an expensive housing market and heavier workloads caused by depleted staffing during the pandemic. Their demands echo those of the thousands of other Southern California tourism workers who have picketed this summer.
Susan Minato, co-president of Unite Here Local 11, said the tourism industry “exploited the pandemic and continues to rake in profits while their workers, the ones who actually make all this possible, are left living paycheck to paycheck, one emergency away from homelessness,” according to a news release Thursday night by the union.
“Workers all over the city have reached their breaking point,” Minato said. “It’s time the industry pays workers their fair share, and if workers have to strike to make that happen, they will.”
Areas USA spokesperson Steve Duchesne said in an email Friday the company has made “repeated offers to meet directly with Unite Here Local 11 leaders in order to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement,” to no avail.
“Regrettably, our offers to negotiate in good faith have been ignored as union leaders appear more interested in chasing headlines on other high-profile matters,” Duchesne said. “We are prepared to maintain labor peace and work toward a new labor agreement that will continue to deliver wages and health insurance benefits that our employees deserve.”
He said the company’s LAX dining concessions will be open for business over the holiday weekend, regardless of whether workers proceed with a strike.
Areas was founded as a catering and concessions business in 1968 in Barcelona and eventually grew its reach globally in the travel hospitality industry. The company has been owned by European private equity firm PAI Partners since 2019 and has about 23,000 employees.
Areas came to LAX in 2010 when the Los Angeles City Council approved three 10-year food contracts as part of a push to overhaul the selection of restaurants, beverage stands and gift stores at the airport. Soon afterward, in 2012, Areas secured a major 25-year contract at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. In March, the company won a 10-year $470-million contract at Hobby Airport in Houston.
The company’s U.S. subsidiary is based in Miami. In total, Areas USA operates retail stores and restaurants in nine major airports.
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