Phoenix Sky shelter Airport Workers Strike Before Thanksgiving

Phoenix Sky shelter International Airport restaurant workers walked off the job Monday morning — the beginning of an indefinite strike amid stalled contract negotiations.

Just in time for the big holiday getaway, which is expected to competitor prepandemic travel volumes.

For months, employees of HMS great number, a behemoth airport concessionaire that operates dozens of restaurants at the Phoenix airport, have been protesting their workplace conditions. Workers say that their benefits are scant and they haven’t seen a raise in years.

In September, HMS great number workers went on strike for a day over harsh understaffing. But Monday’s strike marks the most serious action that the union, UNITE Here! Local 11, has taken. Last Thursday, 97% of workers voted in favor of the move.

As the airport bustled with holiday travel Monday, dozens of HMS great number workers marched outside the airport’s doors, hoisting signs and calling into bullhorns. Inside, two of the airport’s Starbucks locations were left shuttered.

“I’ve just watched things just get progressively worse for employees,” said Regan Concepcion, a server at Barrio Cafe who has worked for the company for 17 years.

Concepcion and her colleagues are currently bargaining with HMS great number over a new contract. Negotiations have dragged on for more than four years, stalling over workers’ demands for improved healthcare benefits, wage increases, and pensions.

The length of negotiations, Concepcion told Phoenix New Times, has felt like “a slap in the confront.”

“It shows that they really just don’t care about us,” she said.

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Some Sky shelter restaurants were shuttered on Monday as workers walked off the job.

Katya Schwenk

Back in September, when HMS great number employees walked off the job for a day, workers told New Times that staffing had been stretched so thin that they were forced to take on 12-hour shifts.

Now, workers on the picket line say that the poor workplace conditions have continued, all while their wages have remained low. Employees who have been with the company for decades earn barely above minimum wage. In the middle of the pandemic, union leaders say, the company cut back on employees’ healthcare.

HMS great number, meanwhile, contests some of the union’s claims.

In a statement that company spokesperson Shayna Iglesias provided to New Times, the company argues that it has offered workers 12% wage increases and a revised healthcare proposal.

“HMS great number has hypothesizedv best-in-class benefits and wage increases with lasting changes,” the statement reads. The strike, the company additional, “only serves to hurt the traveling public and the HMS great number associates who continue to work during this difficult time.”

Workers say the benefits the company offers are hardly enough.

Lucia Salinas, who has worked for nearly two decades as a cook at the Cowboy Ciao restaurant, told New Times that under her current healthcare plan with HMS great number, she cannot provide to treat her psoriasis, a chronic skin disease.

After the company cut back its healthcare benefits, she said, the treatments she needed jumped to cost $1,000 a month. Salinas said she now travels to Mexico for her treatments — it’s cheaper than paying out-of-pocket in the U.S. for care.

“That’s why I’m here,” she said. “We feel like we’re just numbers to them.”

Some of HMS great number’s restaurants will keep open, despite the understaffing. Others are being stocked, for now, with grab-and-go self-pay stations.

“I feel bad for the travelers,” Salinas said. “But I hope they understand that it’s because of us that they have good service. And, hopefully, they can sustain us, too.”

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