Brown Presses Airlines to Require Catering Contracting Companies to Pay Workers Living Wages

Catering Contract Workers Have Contributed to Billions of Dollars in Profits for Legacy Airline Carriers, but Have Not Received Their Fair Share of the Profits

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) is leading a group of senators in urging legacy airline carriers to require the catering contract companies they work with to pay their workers higher wages. In a letter to American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz and Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian, the senators pressed airline carriers to require catering contractors pay their workers family-supporting wages and benefits, as a prerequisite for accepting contract bids.   

“We write regarding workers in your supply chains who earn poverty wages and to urge you to require your catering contractors to pay family-supporting wages and benefits.  The legacy airline carriers have made billions of dollars in profits in the last five years, and it is imperative that all workers who contribute to that success are rewarded for it,” the senators wrote.

The provision of food and drinks is a key function of airline company business, especially as a number of airline companies have announced enhanced food and drink options to build loyalty with customers. While catering contract workers have contributed to billions of dollars in airline profits over the past five years, they have not received their fair share of the profits. Furthermore, catering workers often endure harsh conditions while on the job, including non-air conditioned trucks during the summer and sub-50-degree rooms.

The senators are pushing airline carriers to help set labor standards by requiring catering contractors pay their workers living wages prior to accepting contract bids.  

Brown was joined by Sens. Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV), (D-Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR),  Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ed Markey (D-MA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Tina Smith (D-MN) and Jacky Rosen (D-NV).

The full text of Brown’s letter can be found here and below.

Dear Mr. Parker, Mr. Munoz, and Mr. Bastian:

We write regarding workers in your supply chains who earn poverty wages and to urge you to require your catering contractors to pay family-supporting wages and benefits.  The legacy airline carriers have made billions of dollars in profits in the last five years, and it is imperative that all workers who contribute to that success are rewarded for it.  By stipulating minimum wages and benefits that must be paid by the catering contractors, your companies can put an end to the business practice of profits before people and help to lift thousands of workers out of poverty.

The provision of food and drinks to your passengers is an important part of your core business functions.  Each of your companies has announced enhanced food and drink options as an effort to build loyalty with customers.[1]  Catering workers should be compensated and treated as the critical workers they are to your business.  Unfortunately, catering employees are frequently paid less than a living wage, and as low as $8.40 in some cases.  In many instances, catering employees cannot afford health insurance, and they often work long hours in difficult conditions, including non-air conditioned trucks during the summer and sub-50-degree rooms.  To make it worse, long term airline catering workers are currently earning wages less than or equal to wages they were making nearly two decades ago.  These workers deserve better. 

As the three legacy carriers, your contracts set the labor standards in the airline catering industry.  Each of your companies sets contract requirements that catering companies’ must meet in order for their bid to be accepted.  As part of the bid assessment, your companies seek to minimize catering costs to the greatest extent possible.  That practice of putting profits before people has resulted in a race to the bottom that comes directly at the catering workers’ expense.  Your companies have the market position and the contracting authority to require these workers get the wages and benefits they deserve, and we urge you to take immediate action to ensure they do.

We look forward to working with you to making sure all jobs in the airline industry are family-supporting jobs.

Sincerely,

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