SFO Restaurant Workers Win  Raise, Free Family Health Care Following Strike

SFO Restaurant Workers Win $5 Raise, Free Family Health Care Following Strike

At every terminal, workers marched at the curb, chanting and waving union signs reading “One Job Should Be Enough.”

Mitose, who makes $15.10 per hour plus tips at the Lark Creek Grill, said that one job had not been enough for her to cover her mortgage payments. She worked a second job for many years, but it took a heavy toll.

“When you work two jobs for over 15 years, your health takes a really big hit,” she said.

‘Shocked and appalled’

The strike made headlines, and some members of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors joined the picket lines this week. On Tuesday night, the supervisors called a hearing on the strike.

Union officials testified at the hearing that airport food service workers haven’t had a raise since 2018, and more than one-third of them hold down two or more jobs. Workers described sleeping in their cars between shifts and bathing in public restrooms, because their long commutes home would rob them of precious hours to sleep.

“When we listed our concerns to the Board of Supervisors, they looked pretty shocked and appalled,” said Mitose, who spoke at the meeting.

Board members responded with outrage and noted that the city is the landlord for the restaurants who have leases to do business at the airport.

“It’s an embarrassment that the airport of the city and county of San Francisco treats workers like dirt,” declared Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who chairs the budget committee. “I’m going to start scrutinizing these leases like you’ve never seen before, and nothing’s getting past that committee until these workers are treated fairly.”

She and others urged SFO Director Ivar Satero to take a stronger role in negotiations. And, after Local 2 officials described how a handful of new businesses were ignoring the SFO requirement to allow workers to vote on union membership, supervisors pressed Satero to take action.

“We’ve always enjoyed such strong relationships with the unions … I feel like we really got caught off guard by this whole issue,” admitted Satero, who vowed to be more vigilant.

The board also pressured the group of 30 restaurant employers — who bargain jointly with Local 2 — to meet the needs of workers.

SFO Restaurant Workers Win  Raise, Free Family Health Care Following Strike
Striking food service workers with UNITE HERE Local 2 picket outside San Francisco International Airport on Mon., Sept. 26, 2022. They ended the strike Wednesday night after reaching a tentative deal with employers. (Tyche Hendricks/KQED)

Restaurateur Kevin Westlye, who spoke on behalf of the employer group, said the owners are pinched by inflation. And he made a pitch for the airport to let the group raise menu prices higher than the current allowance to charge 12% above prevailing “street pricing” at city restaurants.

“We have no issue with giving the employees more money, we have no issue with the union and we have no issue with the airport,” said Westlye. But, he added, “You’ve got us right now in an untenable vise grip.”

Supervisors encouraged the airport to meet the owners halfway on their inflation concerns.

“I see absolutely no reason you guys can’t all just get in the room. The airport’s got something to give, your employer group’s got something to give … Local 2 already gave a lot,” said Supervisor Aaron Peskin. “So why don’t you guys go sit down and work it out and we just want to see this strike finished.”

A little more than 24 hours later, a tentative deal was announced.

Mitose, the bartender and Local 2 member, said she heard about it from a co-worker. She had been at the negotiations earlier Wednesday night but had to leave before they concluded.

“We got the phone call at midnight,” she said. “We were so excited. It’s just such a relief to know that you can go back to work and things will get better.”

‘This is the workers’ victory’

Neither SFO nor the restaurant group would comment on what happened after Tuesday’s hearing. But Supervisor Rafael Mandelman said the airport did agree to let menu prices go up, potentially breaking the logjam.

“I don’t know the details, but I do know that the airport is allowing the restaurants to collect some additional compensation for the workers on the checks that people are going to be paying,” he said. “So prices will go up at the airport.”

Mandelman added, “This is a busy airport, the gateway to San Francisco. And the city general fund benefits from payments from the airport. So we need to not have labor unrest at this airport.”

a woman with a shirt that says 'one job should be enough'
Striking food service workers with UNITE HERE Local 2 picket outside San Francisco International Airport on Mon., Sept. 26, 2022. (Tyche Hendricks/KQED)

Singh, the union president, would not reveal the details of the three-year contract before workers vote to ratify it on Sunday. But he said it includes “significant” raises and fully paid family health insurance.

“We’re very excited by this deal,” he said. “It hits all the marks.”

And he credited the supervisors — who, he pointed out, rarely speak in unison on anything.

“There’s no question that the Board of Supervisors had a real impact here. … They were really shoulder to shoulder and unanimous in their support of the workers,” Singh said. But, he added, “At the end of the day, this is the workers’ victory.”

Mitose was back at her job Thursday at the Lark Creek Grill in Terminal 2.

“We’re open for business, and everybody’s coming in with happy faces,” she said. “When you don’t have that extra stress about your paycheck, you come in with a better attitude. So you’re going to get way better service.”

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