Laid-off UNITE HERE Workers Protest Airport Concessionaire Rent Relief

There is turbulence at Orange County’s John Wayne Airport over revelations that concessionaire HMS Host has benefited from valuable rent relief from the County while its laid off workers have lost health insurance.

Dozens of laid off airport food service workers protested and presented the Airport Director Barry Rondinella—who approved the relief—with a letter demanding that the rent relief be reversed.

“We want the Airport Director to do the right thing and reverse the rent relief that was given to HMS Host,” said UNITE HERE Local 11 Organizing Director Austin Lynch.  “Over 200 essential workers are currently struggling to make ends meet and if there is no relief for workers then there should be no relief for HMS Host.”

The rent relief, which was granted to HMS Host in the form of an amendment to its airport lease, allows the company to defer full payment of rent for the period March through June 2020 until the end of the calendar year.  Activists contend that this arrangement amounts to a ten-month interest-free loan of about $1.5 million, according to a press release issued by Local 11.

On May 21, HMSHost informed 260 workers at John Wayne Airport that their health coverage would end June 4. Workers, who include cooks, servers and cashiers have been laid off since mid-March.

John Wayne Airport is owned and operated by the County of Orange. The County Supervisors are responsible for making the laws and policies governing it.

Sergio Contreras, a candidate for the Board of Supervisors, was present at the protests. He called on the airport director to do the right thing.

“We need people in government that will protect essential workers during a pandemic and not bail out large corporations,” said Contreras. “The Airport Director needs to reverse the nearly $1.5 Million in relief it gave to HMSHost now or risk losing the public’s trust forever. OC families deserve better.”

The pandemic has disproportionately affected airport food service workers who are predominately workers of color. HMSHost food service workers at John Wayne Airport have also been without a contract for the last two years. Workers also received a letter from HMSHost saying if they are not recalled by October 15, their temporary layoffs will be permanent.

“I rely on my airport job to provide for me and my family. This is why Governor Newsom needs to sign AB3216 now. This law would ensure airport workers like myself all over the state of California could return to our jobs once this pandemic is over” said Miguel Marcial, a resident of Santa Ana and a worker at John Wayne Airport for eight years.

In a statement to the Orange County Register, HMSHost said that discussions with the union over healthcare were ongoing.

“We continue to have discussions with UNITE HERE Local 11 regarding the recall process and restoration of healthcare coverage for laid-off associates who are recalled to work after Oct. 15,” the statement read. “We are deeply grateful to all of our associates for their commitment and care for our guests and one another to make HMSHost a best-in-class company.”

Read more here.

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