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Sky Harbor Airport concession workers vote on possible strike a week before Thanksgiving

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Concession workers at Sky Harbor International Airport vote Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, on a possible strike.

Concession workers and union members at Sky Harbor International Airport voted Thursday — a week before Thanksgiving — whether to strike for receive better wages, healthcare benefits and retirement plans.

Servers, bartenders, baristas, dishwashers and cooks at HMS Host, a provider of food and beverage services at the airport, were casting their ballots until 5 p.m. in Terminals 3 and 4.

According to a news release from Unite Here Local 11, which represents the workers, HMS Host is the single largest concessionaire at Sky Harbor and a strike would impact travelers arriving and departing in both Terminals 3 and 4.

“It’s unfortunate that Unite Here Local 11 is planning to inconvenience passengers during a time when people are looking forward to finally gather with family. Their actions will only hurt an already strained workforce,” said Shayna Iglesias, a HMS Host spokesperson.

Victoria Stahl, 24, said she voted yes for the strike. “Our company is not listening. They’re not respecting us as workers who keep everything running. We’re risking our health to keep the doors open,” Stahl said.

“We also want to go home and spend time with our families. I want to buy my family Christmas gifts. I want to go home and not be dead tired. We’re willing to strike as long as it takes,” Stahl said.

The strike puts pressure on HMS Host which is in the middle of negotiating a new contract with the union.

“Unite Here Local 11 is choosing to strike to exert pressure during our negotiations and disrupt holiday travel when people need our services the most,” Iglesias said.

What is up for negotiation?

Negotiations have been ongoing since 2017. Workers seek a contract with fair raises, affordable health insurance, a company-paid retirement contribution and protection for workers’ tips, according to the union’s news release.

“Delays in setting a contract mean delays in wage increases,” the release stated.

Concession workers at Sky Harbor International Airport vote Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, on a possible strike.

Stahl said, “I need to make sure I make a living and pay all of my bills and not pick and choose what bills to pay at the end of the month.”

Almost everything in the contract, including wage increases and healthcare coverage, has been agreed on, but pensions are still in negotiation.

HMS Host wrote in an email that it is offering 12% wage increases, pay for 90% of healthcare costs, and contribution to a hospitality training fund.

“This is part of the most generous compensation package ever for Sky Harbor associates,” the email said.

Matthew Vargas, 20, said he also voted yes to strike. “HMS Host for far too long has been taking advantage of workers. Workers who have been here longer than I’ve been alive have no retirement,” he said.

Stahl said she doesn’t want to leave her 401K up to the stock market because “it’s shown how fragile it is, especially with the pandemic.”

“It’s a win-win situation the way I see it. HMS would make more money off employee retention alone and be able to fully operate, and workers receive a proper pension,” Vargas said.

How has the pandemic affected concession workers?

According to the union, “From April 2020 to April of this year, HMS Host was granted more than $4.7 million in rent relief by the City of Phoenix.”

Understaffing has also been an issue for Sky Harbor employees. On Sept. 15, a one-day strike “focused on what workers described as a crisis in understaffing,” the union news release stated.

Concession workers at Sky Harbor International Airport vote Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, on a possible strike.

At the beginning of the pandemic, HMS Host laid off hundreds of workers and also later terminated their health insurance, according to the union.

However, HMS Host wrote in an email that they offered positions back to 100% of those who were laid off during the pandemic and offered appreciation bonuses up to $800 per employee in September this year.

“HMS Host has been working tirelessly to expand our workforce at Sky Harbor,” Iglesias said.

It has held over 15 in-person and virtual job fairs, partnered with Work for Warriors, and posted information through community outreach organizations.

Reach breaking news reporter MacKenzie Brower at mackenzie.brower@arizonarepublic.com or on Instagram @_photomac_.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Sky Harbor Airport concession workers vote on possible strike a week before Thanksgiving