Sky Harbor Starbucks workers say licensee shouldn’t get COVID aid

UPDATED: JUNE 18, 2021 AT 9:56 AM

PHOENIX — The licensee of the five Starbucks stores at Sky Harbor is asking the Phoenix City Council for $10.9 million in rent relief, as the nation emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Workers say don’t give it to operator HMS Host.

Barista April Hernandez says she often works alone with a line that runs outside the store.

“I love making coffee, but it’s very stressful in that type of environment,” she said. “It used to be fun.”

Hernandez wants HMS Host to hire more workers to deal with the surging number of passengers at the airport as the pandemic winds down.

“They’re not taking care of their employees well enough, so why do they deserve rent relief when they’re making so much money off all the Starbucks and other restaurants that they own in this country?” she asked.

Union members of UNITE HERE! Local 11 met with two members of the Phoenix City Council outside of City Hall on Wednesday. The workers delivered a letter to them, six other council members and Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego.

Councilwoman Betty Guardado told them Sky Harbor passenger traffic is now back to 90% of pre-pandemic levels.

“The workers are hurting, and the clients are hurting,” she said. “We get complaints here at the city all the time that there are not enough restaurants open. It’s revenue that we’re all losing.”

Starbucks at Sky Harbor only has 55 employees, down from 139 before the pandemic. Hernandez hears all of the complaints from passengers.

“We tell them there’s another Starbucks on the other side (of the airport) if they want to go,” she said. “But they get so angry.

“Even when we’re so backed up when we don’t have enough people working, it puts so much stress on us that they want us to be quick, but we’re not fast enough.”

Vice Mayor Carlos Garcia says the $10.9 million that the concessionaire wants from the city could be given to the workers.

“It’s not just about the wages, but the standards that we’re setting,” he said. “These workers are a part of ‘America’s Friendliest Airport.’ But it’s only that if we’re taking care of the workers.”

Guardado estimates HMS Host got millions of dollars in relief last year — same with other shops and restaurants that are still closed.

Councilman Sal DiCiccio in a statement said that from the start of the pandemic he wanted all financial relief from the city given directly to the workers, and not to “giant multi-national corporations” who can underwrite their profits.

“HMS Host has an obligation to rectify this situation, not only for their employees but for the people of Phoenix and everyone traveling via Sky Harbor,” DiCiccio said. “They need to rehire and increase staffing in line with the increase in passenger traffic.”

Some employers have complained that they cannot get enough workers to fill vacancies because unemployment benefits pay more.