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Uninsured airline food workers hold protests nationwide

Staff writer |
Uninsured food service workers held protests today in cities that are home to the "Big Three" U.S. airline companies - United, American Airlines and Delta.

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Employees in the airline catering industry say their healthcare is too expensive, leaving many uninsured or underinsured. For just a "nickel a ticket," they say the airlines could fix the problem. Events in Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas and 17 additional cities launch a national campaign aimed at major airlines coordinated by UNITE HERE, a union representing 27,000 workers in the airline food industry.

Over one-quarter of workers surveyed by UNITE HERE reported being uninsured.
As part of the day's events, workers visited airline headquarters to deliver a petition to representatives of the "Big Three" airlines on behalf of nearly 12,000 airline catering workers at 31 U.S. airports. According to a 2014 analysis of nearly 10,000 contracted airline catering workers nationally, over 40 percent make less than $10.10 per hour.

Such low wages position industry workers between a rock and a hard place: unable to pay the premiums of so-called "minimum value plans," but ineligible to purchase more affordable options from health care exchanges.

Over one-quarter of workers surveyed by UNITE HERE reported being uninsured. In other cases, they pay annual premiums for company offered health care of over $1,400 for individuals and $5,000 for families. All on top of an additional $5,000 minimum deductible. As a result, many workers struggle to make ends meet: in the aforementioned survey, 25% of airline catering workers reported receiving some sort of public assistance.

Meanwhile, the U.S. airline industry is booming: in one example, American Airlines reported a record $1.2 billion net profit in third quarter 2014. Yet American, Delta, United and other airlines continue to squeeze the food workers in their supply chain, paying catering companies an average of only $2.50 per passenger for food—nearly $2.00 less than 2001 rate for similar services. As profits soar, catering workers are seeking their fair share.

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