United Airlines told its 2,500 in-house catering workers on Thursday that it plans to outsource their jobs by October. United has been an outlier in the U.S. Airline industry for several years in running its own catering operations but reconsidered after the pandemic upended its business.
The airline currently has its own kitchens at five hubs in Newark, Houston, Denver, Cleveland, and Honolulu. United said it started reviewing its catering operations during the pandemic and after a six-month review decided to press ahead with the outsourcing initiative.
The Unite Here union which won representation for United’s kitchen staff in 2018 fears the jobs are being outsourced so that the airline can avoid bargaining with employees for improved pay and conditions. Nearly three years after voting to unionize, negotiations have stalled and catering workers are still without a contract.
Maria Velasquez has worked at United’s kitchen in Houston for more than 30 years but still only earns $12 per hour. United’s kitchen staff are some of the lowest-paid employees at the airline. “I’ve dedicated my life to this company,” Maria said.
Another worker claimed to only earn $10.50 an hour. Iris Thomas, who is also based in Houston, says she knows of coworkers who have been evicted from their homes because they can’t afford to pay their rent.
United said employees with good standing would be offered a job with one of three suppliers that have been selected by the airline and around 70 per cent would still be represented by a union.
“We wanted to proceed in a way that allowed us to protect the vast majority of jobs for our United catering team members, and invest in solutions that significantly improve our customers’ onboard experience,” said United’s Vice President of customer innovation and strategy and catering, Mandeep Grewal in a memo reviewed by Reuters.
The contractors won’t fully take over until mid-November when a federal payroll support program that prevents job losses expires.
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