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Uninsured airline food workers hold protests nationwide

Targeting headquarters of United, Delta and American Airlines, actions with 1000+ workers launch national "Nickel A Ticket" campaign.

CHICAGO - Uninsured food service workers held protests in cities that are home to the "Big Three" U.S. airline companies-United, American Airlines and Delta. Employees in the airline catering industry say their healthcare is too expensive, leaving many uninsured or underinsured. For just a "nickel a ticket," they say the airlines could fix the problem. Events in Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas and 17 additional cities launch a national campaign aimed at major airlines coordinated by UNITE HERE, a union representing 27,000 workers in the airline food industry.

As part of the day's events, workers visited airline headquarters to deliver a petition to representatives of the "Big Three" airlines on behalf of nearly 12,000 airline catering workers at 31 U.S. airports. In another part of the national campaign, more than 1,200 workers came forward to demand a "nickel a ticket" from airlines via photos released online today at nickelaticket.org.

In all major airports, airline food workers clean dishes, prepare meals, ensure security and transport the food and beverages consumed aboard thousands of flights each day. They play an integral role in the smooth operation of airline itineraries, but according to a 2014 analysis of nearly 10,000 contracted airline catering workers nationally, over 40 percent make less than $10.10 per hour.

Such low wages position industry workers between a rock and a hard place: unable to pay the premiums of so-called "minimum value plans," but ineligible to purchase more affordable options from health care exchanges. Over one-quarter of workers surveyed by UNITE HERE reported being uninsured. In other cases, they pay annual premiums for company offered health care of over $1,400 for individuals and $5,000 for families. All on top of an additional $5,000 minimum deductible.  As a result, many workers struggle to make ends meet: in the aforementioned survey, 25% of airline catering workers reported receiving some sort of public assistance.

"I pay more than $400 each month, almost an entire week's paycheck, for insurance," said Natasha Hill, a 19-year employee who services planes for Delta, United and other airlines at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. "It's expensive, and on top of that I have to pay $10,000 out of pocket before my family even starts seeing the benefits. But I do it because my two sons need health insurance."

Meanwhile, the U.S. airline industry is booming: in one example, American Airlines reported a record $1.2 billion net profit in third quarter 2014. Yet American, Delta, United and other airlines continue to squeeze the food workers in their supply chain, paying catering companies an average of only $2.50 per passenger for food-nearly $2.00 less than 2001 rate for similar services. As profits soar, catering workers are seeking their fair share.

UNITE HERE is a union with over 270,000 members in the U.S. and Canada, including 27,000 airline catering and concessions workers. It represents nearly 12,000 airline catering workers, employees of Gate Gourmet, Flying Food Group and LSG Sky Chefs.
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