On August 11th, UNITE HERE Local 40 airline catering members who work for Gate Gourmet held a press conference to issue a travel alert and discuss a possible strike at Vancouver International Airport. Gate Gourmet is a global inflight caterer that services Air Canada, British Airways, Air China, and other major airlines.
Citing the company’s failed promise to pay workers properly after a three-year wage freeze, the stripping away of overtime on the 6th and 7th day of work, and poor treatment of injured workers returning to work, Gate Gourmet workers addressed the media and described what changes they want to see in their workplace. They were joined by Jenny Kwan, MP for Vancouver East, and Aaron Ekman, Secretary-Treasurer, BC Federation of Labour, who spoke in support of the workers.
“I stay overtime so the airlines can get their food on time. Sometimes we go home at 2am to make sure food is delivered. But we are so understaffed, we are doing the jobs of two people. On top of that, the company manages to take away our overtime on the 6th and 7th day of work. Some of us end up working 8 to 10 days in a row without overtime,” said bargaining committee member, Leonisa Paraton, Team Leader-Cold Section, and 20-year employee.
Two other veteran employees described poor treatment of those who return to work after experiencing illness or injury. Months after returning to work, and in one case a year later, the company told workers that their seniority would be reduced retroactively, making them more vulnerable to layoffs and adversely impacting their shift assignments.
Gate Gourmet is benefiting from a turnaround in the airline industry and has won lucrative new business recently. In Vancouver, the tourism industry is booming. Passenger numbers for Vancouver International Airport (YVR) are at an all-time high with a record 20.3 million visitors in 2015 and expected to grow in 2016. Yet, the company has failed to adequately recognize the economic sacrifices made by their 400 employees, mostly immigrants from China and other parts of the globe, who agreed to concessions in their last contract three years ago.
On August 3rd, workers voted overwhelmingly to authorize job actions, up to and including a strike, if no progress is made at the table. Both sides remain far apart and have entered into mediation. The workers’ contract expired on July 31, 2016.