OAKLAND, Calif. - Workers from Subway concession at Oakland Airport were joined by supporters from other unions and the community July 14 as they took their year-long struggle for union rights and decent working conditions to a new level with a one-day unfair labor practices strike, complete with a lively, boisterous all-day picket line.
Former Subway worker Hakima Arhab told a noontime rally of more than 200 why she is still on the picket line though she was fired more than a year ago after speaking out. "This company was breaking the law, they were making us work 12 hours a day with no breaks and no overtime pay," she said. "We're supposed to have 12 sick days a year, but Subway wouldn't give us any sick days. The company fired me after they found out I was involved and wanted a change in my workplace. But I'm still strong; I want to do whatever it takes."
Oakland's Living Wage law mandates that any business contracting with the city and the Port of Oakland must pay workers a "living wage" higher than California's minimum wage, and must provide 12 days of paid leave per year.
The National Labor Relations Board has found that Subway and other concessions at the airport have violated federal labor laws, including firing workers for trying to organize, quizzing workers about union activities, and cutting hours of union workers.
After Arhab and a worker at Jamba Juice were fired, Unite Here demanded, and the Port of Oakland ordered, their reinstatement. To date the two have not gotten their jobs back.
Also at issue is the concession workers' call for a fair process to decide about joining a union. Workers for companies leasing concessions directly from the airport have the right to organize when a majority sign cards saying they want to join a union. But workers at concessions subcontracting from the main food service provider, HMS Host, aren't covered by that agreement. Among the subcontractors are Subway, Jamba Juice, Auntie Ann's and Burger King.
The workers have also taken their struggle to the Board of Port Commissioners, which oversees the Oakland Airport.
The union workers at HMS Host continue to stand in solidarity with their non-union counterparts. HMS Host worker Kia Mitchell told the crowd, "We union workers are supporting the non-union workers here at Oakland Airport. What do you think? Should there be one standard at the airport, or should have the workers have good benefits and workers' rights, and the other half be without? Don't let the bosses weaken you," she continued. "Together we will win this fight!"
The Community Food Justice Coalition's Armando Nieto emphasized his organization's commitment to workers' rights: "At CFJC we believe that access to healthy food is a basic human right. However, the part of the food system that seems to be the most neglected is food workers. That's why it's so important that you're standing out here, so you can be a beacon for people who eat, so they can see the critical role that workers play in a food system."
Photo: Marilyn Bechtel/PW