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October 21, 2023

Philadelphia airport hospitality staff workers vote to authorize strike

Employees are fighting for free healthcare and fair wages promised in a contract agreed upon on June 15, 2022; however, it remains unsigned by OTG, the largest food service employer at PHL.

Labor Businesses
PHL airport workers strike Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

On Friday, Philadelphia airport workers gathered for a crucial vote, expressing their overwhelming support for a strike amidst a year-long dispute over a promised contract for free healthcare and fair wages.

In a resounding show of solidarity, Philadelphia airport food service workers employed at Independence Prime and Local Tavern, both under OTG ownership, have voted overwhelmingly, with 95% in favor of strike authorization. This vote marks a significant milestone in their quest for improved healthcare benefits, fair wages, and better working conditions. 

The situation has reached a critical juncture as the workers grapple with an ongoing struggle to secure the rights promised to them.

OTG, the largest food service employer at the Philadelphia International Airport, oversees a diverse workforce spanning three terminals, including a significant proportion of Black, Brown, immigrant, and female workers, according to the Philadelphia Tribune.

After four years of negotiations, an agreement was reached on June 15, 2022. This contract, hailed for its provisions, including free healthcare, substantial wage hikes, backpay, additional paid leave, and holiday pay, received unanimous approval from OTG workers in a subsequent ratification vote, the Inquirer reported

More than a year later, the agreed-upon contract remains unsigned by OTG. The company's failure to deliver on its commitments has left workers grappling with withheld backpay, denied access to promised healthcare, and unpaid raises for 2023. The disregard for the agreed terms has left employees frustrated and feeling undervalued.

The battle for free healthcare began in 2019 when airport workers resorted to drastic measures, including die-ins and acts of civil disobedience, to draw attention to their plight. Now, workers at Independence Prime and Local Tavern continue to champion the cause, determined to secure the healthcare they and their families deserve, the Inquirer said.

Michael Lagansky, a server at Local Tavern in Terminal F, emphasizes the broader implications of their fight. "We're not just standing up for ourselves; we're standing up for everyone at PHL. Most workers at our airport do not have company-provided healthcare because they cannot afford it. We're changing that," he said.

Despite the workers' resolute stance and the legal backing of Philly Local 274, which represents 4,000 private sector hotel and food service workers in the region, OTG maintains a stance of non-compliance. The company's assertion that no agreement has been reached contradicts evidence and leaves the workers' demands unmet.

The introduction of mandatory arbitration agreements in employment contracts has added another layer of complexity to the situation. This controversial clause not only restricts workers' rights to legal recourse but also undermines their collective bargaining power. The arbitration agreements have further strained the already tense negotiations between Unite Here Local 274 and OTG.

The resounding vote in favor of strike authorization reflects the unwavering determination of Philadelphia Airport workers to secure their rightful benefits and fair treatment. The failure of OTG to honor its commitments is a stark reminder of the challenges faced by workers in asserting their rights. As negotiations continue, the workers and their union stand firm, unwavering in their belief that justice and fair treatment must prevail. The outcome of this struggle will not only impact the workers directly involved but will also set a precedent for the broader labor landscape in Philadelphia and beyond.