Phoenix airport strikers accuse company of racial wage disparities

Nov 24, 2021, 9:08 AM | Updated: 9:19 am
(Twitter Photo/@UNITEHERE11AZ)...
(Twitter Photo/@UNITEHERE11AZ)
(Twitter Photo/@UNITEHERE11AZ)

PHOENIX – As their strike continues into the busiest travel season of the year, Phoenix airport restaurant union members are accusing concessionaire HMSHost of wage inequities along racial and ethnic lines.

Meanwhile, HMSHost downplayed the impact of the work stoppage, saying about 84% of its Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport employees have been showing up.

HMSHost operates 12 concessions brands at Sky Harbor, including Starbucks, Chelsea’s Kitchen, Olive & Ivy, SanTan Brewing and Zinburger.

“HMSHost continues to proudly serve guests during this busy holiday travel period thanks to our dedicated associates,” a company spokesperson said in a press release Tuesday.

Unite Here Local 11 on Tuesday formally asked the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to look into the compensation practices of HMSHost, the largest concessions operator at the state’s largest airport.

“Data obtained from HMS Host indicate substantial disparities in hiring, promotion and compensation along racial and ethnic lines,” the complaint says.

Local 11 alleges that Black HMSHost employees were paid 69.7% of what white workers made per hour in 2019, and Latino workers made 81.9% of their white counterparts.

“Among non-management employees, the sharp disparities in compensation along racial lines appear to result from the disproportionate representation of white workers in better-paid positions, and the disproportionate representation of workers of color in less well-paid positions,” the complaint says.

HMSHost did not respond to KTAR News 92.3 FM’s request for a response to the accusations.

Local 11’s indefinite strike entered its third day Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving and traditionally the busiest air travel day of the year.

The union members are seeking increased staffing, raises, affordable health insurance, a company-paid retirement contribution and tips protection.

HMSHost said it’s offering a deal that includes 12% pay raises and benefits that cover 90% of associates’ health care costs.

“HMSHost has proposed wages and benefits that are top tier in the market, and we encourage the union to accept our offer to increase wages and lower health care costs for HMSHost associates without further delay,” the company spokesperson said.

Local 11 workers make up less than half of the company’s hourly employees at Sky Harbor, according to HMSHost.

Before the strike began, the company said it had a plan to mitigate the impact of a staff reduction.

HMSHost said it expected most of its restaurants, bars and airline lounges to remain open, except for two Starbucks in Terminal 3 and one at the baggage claim of Terminal 4. The company said Zinburger might have to temporarily close, too.

Local 11 is a union for hospitality workers in Arizona and Southern California with more than 32,000 members, about 470 of whom work for HMSHost at Sky Harbor.

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Phoenix airport strikers accuse company of racial wage disparities