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Airport Food Service Workers Strike Seeking Higher Pay, Affordable Health Care

Photo Courtesy of Bryant De Venecia, UNITE HERE Local 5 Union

On Friday, over 500 employees of HMSHost Honolulu, the food service company at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, entered the second day of their strike for higher wages and better health care coverage.

The workers are represented by UNITE HERE Local 5, which has been negotiating with HMSHost since the employees' contract expired in December 2018.

The employees work at Starbucks, restaurants, bars, concessions, pantry and other service jobs at the airport.

The union overwhelmingly voted to strike in November. In a statement, the union said workers walked off their jobs after negotiations on Dec. 10 and Dec. 11 resulted in little movement toward a settlement.

“We have the most relentless of job descriptions. That’s why I’m not satisfied with the pay at all,” said Israel Callo, a utility worker with HMSHost. Utility workers bounce from establishment to establishment, washing dishes, cleaning and clearing rubbish. “We look like a robot because we have to do everything and we are the lowest paid in the company.”

Callo said when he started at HMSHost three years ago, he was paid $10.99 an hour. Since then, he said he’s had one 50-cent raise.

Local 5 Union spokesman Bryant de Venecia noted that most HMSHost employees start at minimum wage, which is $10.10 an hour in Hawaii, but that the average worker makes $12 an hour.

“These workers are the backbone of the industry, and they are the first and last people that the tourists see and they serve almost 10 million tourists every year,” he said. “They deserve livable wages.”

The workers are also seeking less expensive health care coverage for their families. HMSHost charges $75 a month for medical coverage per employee and one other person. For a full family, coverage costs at least $115 a month.

“If you are getting paid 10, 11, 12 dollars, that’s a lot of money,” de Venecia said.

In a statement, HMSHost said it has offered to increase hourly pay for non-tipped workers to more than $15, but the increase would not take effect immediately.

The company expressed disappointment that the strike comes during the holidays — a peak season for travel.

Many of the airport food service restaurants remain open but with limited service, a state Department of Transportation spokesman said. He encouraged travelers to consider bringing their own food to the airport, but to make sure it abides by TSA guidelines.

Meanwhile, Hawaiian Airlines flight attendants resumed picketing at the airport on Tuesday as their contract dispute continues. The flight attendants voted overwhelmingly last month to authorize a strike after talks stretching over three years reached a stalemate.

The 2,100 flight attendants are represented by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA). The members are seeking better benefits and wages, which they say have fallen in comparison to other flight attendants in the industry.

Ashley Mizuo
Born and raised on O’ahu, she’s a graduate of ‘Iolani School and has a BA in Journalism and Political Science from Loyola University Chicago and an MA in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.
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