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.