Dozens of front-line airport workers staged a “die-in” at LAX in Los Angeles calling for the need to extend healthcare for laid-off airport workers during the pandemic. The theatrical action coincided with a meeting of LAWA, the airport’s governing body. Workers are calling upon LAWA to ensure that part of any rent relief for concessionaires is passed on to workers through extended healthcare coverage.
“Hundreds of laid-off workers have spoken at LAWA since the pandemic began. We have told the board about our families need for extended health insurance. But it has not been enough. LAWA is considering millions of dollars more in relief for companies. Thousands of LAX workers are facing the loss of healthcare for themselves and their families in a pandemic. Their lives are at stake,” Robin Rodriguez, Organizing Director UNITE HERE Local 11.
Workers of color at LAX have been some of the hardest hit during this pandemic. At LAX, upwards of 90% of the concession’s workforce are people of color and over 20% of this workforce is Black. Thousands have been laid off due to COVID-19 and are struggling to make rent, with no secure date of return nor a promise of continued healthcare coverage throughout the pandemic.
HMS Host and Areas USA, the two largest concessionaires at LAX who employ a total of about 1700 workers, have refused to make any additional health care payments
for their laid-off employees. Other companies at LAX, like Duty Free Shops, Hudson News and Delaware North Companies, have paid additional months of healthcare for their laid-off workers.
“I have given my life to this airport. My co-workers have given their lives to this airport. My company has access to millions and millions of dollars. I do not. They can afford to extend our healthcare. Without healthcare we are at higher risk of losing our lives to COVID. LAWA should not give relief to them unless they do,” Marlene Mendoza, a server of 32 years at LAX for HMS Host.
Since the pandemic began, HMS Host has received relief worth millions of dollars from state and local governments, and its parent company, Italian giant Autogrill, is negotiating an aid package with the Italian government reportedly worth over $350 million dollars. Areas USA is owned by Paris-based private equity firm PAI Partners, which has $16 billion under management, including $177 million from the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association (LACERA).
“We want LAX and LAWA to do the right thing and extend our healthcare. My entire family depends on me for it. I have two young daughters and don’t know what I would do if they got sick,” Elizabeth Mejia, server for AREAS USA at LAX Airport for 8 years.
The City of Los Angeles approved a temporary rent relief package in April for LAX concessionaires requiring recipients of relief to pay for additional healthcare for laid-off workers. With the pandemic continuing, workers are now seeking to ensure that any new relief for companies include further extended healthcare for laid-off workers and are calling upon companies to participate and extend workers’ healthcare.