Restaurant workers strike at San Francisco International Airport


The Catalyst / Courtesy of Erin Chazer

Strikers and supporters march outside of San Francisco International Airport in demand of increased wages.

For three long days, over 1,000 restaurant workers at San Francisco International Airport picketed outside of several terminals, advocating for higher wages, better healthcare plans and retirement benefits.

The strike came after months of ineffective negotiations.

“Nine months of negotiations got us nowhere,” said Anand Singh, president of Unite Here Local 2 workers’ union, in a statement. “SFO’s food service workers are tired of working two or even three jobs just to survive.”

Most of the airport’s food staff were making a little over $17 an hour, which is not nearly enough for individuals to support themselves, let alone a family, in the Bay Area, where the cost of living is exceptionally high. In order to make up for the low pay, 10% of employees were working multiple jobs. Being forced to double or even triple their work hours left many employees overwhelmed and drained.

“So when people were chanting ‘one job should be enough,’ it wasn’t just to make a point about the low pay, it was describing the lived experience of many of the workers,” commented Erin Chazer, who attended the strike.

With the lasting financial drawbacks of the COVID-19 pandemic, higher wages and the preservation of healthcare benefits are needed more than ever. Having not received a raise in years, low-wage workers were desperate for a change. Their tireless efforts were effective. Upon reaching an agreement with airport officials, the strike ended on Wednesday, September 29 and a new contract was approved on Sunday, October 2.

“I’m so glad that the union was able to come to an agreement with the airport,” said Chazer. “I truly believe that when workers stand together and demand better, they will win.”

The new contract grants the airport food workers free family healthcare and a $5 wage increase, according to SFGATE. After three years without a raise, the employees stood their ground and gained the improvements they were looking for, demonstrating the true power of union protest.

The workers’ decision to strike left the airport in mild disarray. According to local publication Eater SF, 65% of the food establishments inside the airport were disrupted. During the period of protest, travelers were unable to access most prepared food, and San Francisco International Airport officials encouraged people to come to the airport prepared with snacks and meals of their own. Although some travelers were annoyed at this inconvenience, many were very supportive of the protesters and viewed the strike as a perfectly reasonable response to the insufficient wages.