Statement by UNITE HERE Local 11 on Los Angeles World Airports Board of Airport Commissioners vote to accept $36.78 million in an American Rescue Plan Act concessionaire relief grant at the July 8, 2021 Special Meeting
Los Angeles–Los Angeles World Airport staff have recommended that the Board of Airport Commissioners vote to accept federal grant offers for American Rescue Plan program funds at their special meeting on July 8, 2021. The Federal Aviation Administration allocated $36,785,751 for concessionaire relief at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). UNITE HERE Local 11 members at HMS Host demand that, should LAWA accept federal aid, it must require concessionaires like billionaire firm HMS Host to direct all relief to the workers that have struggled through the pandemic.
LAWA extended rent relief twice during the pandemic, providing minimum annual guarantee waivers and 24-month lease extensions for concessionaires like HMS Host. HMS Host is the largest airport concessionaire in North America and operates approximately 47% of all food and beverage concessions at LAX. UNITE HERE Local 11 estimates that because of LAWA’s actions, HMS Host escaped paying more than $4 million in rent between April 2020 and March 2021 for their two direct contracts. This does not include additional relief from the terminal concession manager, URW Airports, which URW passed down to sub-tenants like HMS Host.
Meanwhile, hundreds of HMS Host workers were laid off at the start of the pandemic and many are still waiting to return to their jobs.
HMS Host is a wealthy corporation, whose parent company, Autogrill, is owned by Italian billionaires through a holding company with a net asset value of $12.9 billion as of December 31, 2020. The airport provided more than enough relief throughout the pandemic and concessionaires like HMS Host must prioritize supporting airport workers. Domestic passenger traffic at LAX for May 2021 is at 61% of May 2019, before the pandemic. According to TSA screening numbers, travel peaked nationwide last week leading up to Independence Day with screening numbers exceeding 2019 levels. With travel recovering and significant aid already given to the firm, we believe HMS Host does not need nor does it deserve any additional relief from the American Rescue Plan Act concessionaire relief grant offered to LAX.
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Workers of LAX Giant HMS Host Call on Company to “Pay Up”
Concessionaire faces wage class action and a million-dollar bill for worker health insurance, while hundreds of airport workers remain laid off
Los Angeles, CA: Sixty laid off LAX workers took to their cars Thursday to caravan through the airport with horns, lights, and signs that say “HMS Host Pay Up.” The protest came ahead of a move by the airport authority Board of Airport Commission to grant the company a valuable lease extension.HMS Host has been the subject of controversy and criticism from its own employees in recent months.
“During the pandemic, HMS Host has repeatedly failed to live up to its most basic obligations towards its workers. When its workers needed them most, HMS Host turned its back,” said UNITE HERE Local 11 Director Robin Rodriguez.
This October, Host workers filed a class action lawsuit against the company alleging it failed to pay wages they are owed under the Los Angeles Living Wage Ordinance, despite numerous complaints from employees. The still-pending lawsuit also alleges that Host also failed to comply with California labor laws requiring employers to pay final wages to terminated employees immediately.
Following worker complaints, the Los Angeles City Council voted down a financial package for HMS Host estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars in lease extension-related revenue and rent relief.
Workers are now drawing attention to HMS Host’s alleged failure to make healthcare contributions to help maintain health care coverage for its laid-off workers. A health benefit fund covering its employees has informed Host that it is delinquent in paying more than a million dollars in benefit contributions required under a City rent relief program for airport concessionaires.
“My family and I have had to make many sacrifices during this pandemic to make ends meet and it scares me to think I could lose my healthcare if HMS Host does not pay up what it should,” said Carlos Castillo a bartender at HMS Host at LAX for 21 years.
HMS Host is the largest operator of airport concessions in North America and at LAX. Its parent company, Autogrill, is owned by a family of Italian multi-billionaires whose holding corporation had assets valued at $13.8 billion last year.
HMS Host workers at LAX are over 90% people of color (including over 20% Black) and live in the communities hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of its LAX workforce remains laid off.
On September 3, 2020, dozens of predominantly black and brown front-line airport workers staged a “die-in” inside the Tom Bradley Terminal in LAX 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.
Frontline LAX Workers Stage “Die-In” for Extended Healthcare Amid COVID-19 Health Crisis
“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 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.