Food Workers Force Restaurant Closures During Strike at San Francisco Airport

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By Tyrone Richardson

Dec. 12 — A group of about 1,000 restaurant workers at San Francisco International Airport are on their second day of a two-day strike to protest a “final” labor contract offer that they say erodes health-care benefits and job security, union officials said Dec. 12.

UNITE HERE Local 2, which represents restaurant workers at the airport, warned travelers to the nation's seventh busiest airport that they should bring their own food, because the work stoppage has forced the temporary shutdown of some airport restaurants, according to the union's website Dec. 12. Doug Yakel, an airport spokesman, told Bloomberg BNA that 54 of 67 restaurants were open as of the early afternoon.

The food service workers' two-day strike also comes in the midst of several flight delays and cancellations at the San Francisco International Airport because of a hurricane-like storm working its way through the West Coast.

UNITE HERE Local 2 officials say the airport workers have been without a labor contract for about 16 months. Sticking points between the union and the SFO Airport Restaurant Employer Council (AREC), the group that represents the eateries in the airport, include health-care contributions and language that would entitle workers to job security when a restaurant closes or relocates, UNITE HERE officials said.

On Nov. 20, about 99 percent of the workforce agreed on a strike vote, according to Ian Lewis, research director at UNITE HERE Local 2.

Employee Molly Gomez told Bloomberg BNA in a written statement Dec. 12 why she and other workers decided to strike.

“These restaurant companies have forgotten that my coworkers and I are the ones who make them so successful” said Gomez, a server at Gordon Biersch. “We walked off the job to remind them of that, and to draw our customers’ attention to the fact that we deserve better.”

Battle for Benefits

The 48-hour strike started at 2 a.m. Dec. 11. Workers are scheduled to return to work Dec. 13, and the two sides are scheduled to resume contract negotiations Dec. 15, officials said.

Lewis said AREC recently presented a “final proposal” labor contract that included two sticking points. First, it would freeze health-care payments, which would mean workers who earn an average of $24,000 per year would pay about $4,000 annually for health coverage, he said.

“That would mean they would not have affordable health care,” Lewis added.

Lewis said the other point of contention is over job security. The union would like to see language in the contract that would offer workers other jobs at the airport if they are laid off because their concession closes.

Steve Sarver, owner of San Francisco Soup Co. and president of AREC, told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 12 that airport restaurant workers are treated well and are “the highest paid in the country,” when you include benefits and wages starting at $14 per hour. He said the proposed contract reinforces that milestone, adding that employees “pay $35 per month for family coverage at the same platinum level.”

“It is very generous and fair and our offer gives workers platinum-level health care. None of the owners get platinum-level health-care coverage, but we are giving that to our workers,” Sarver said. “Right now they pay about $1,000 per employee per month to the health-care fund.” He added, “The full-time employee pays zero dollars per month. We are not proposing any changes to that structure.”

Sarver said restaurant workers at San Francisco International Airport are optimistic that the two sides will reach a labor contract.

“The restaurant owners and operators are all local, small family businesses, and we value our relationship with the public as well as with our employees,” Sarver said. “We are hopeful that this contract can be finalized in the very near future.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Tyrone Richardson in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at