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.

Workers picket at LAX wearing signs that say, "HMS Host: Pay Up!"

“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 HMS 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.

TAKE BACK 2020

UNITE HERE knocked on doors of 3 million voters to win AZ, NV, and PA for Joe Biden

UNITE HERE organized the largest union door-to-door canvass operation in the U.S.

UNITE HERE, the hospitality workers’ union, organized the country’s largest union-door-to-door canvassing operation. Today, the union announced that those efforts in Nevada, Arizona, and Pennsylvania point to a clear path to victory for Joe Biden.

UNITE HERE has been preparing for the 2020 election since 2016, identifying several counties for targeted door-to-door outreach. Among them were cities now critical to the outcome of the current race: Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada; Phoenix, Arizona; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In those key areas, UNITE HERE canvassers got out on the doors first, starting a ground game as early as July in Nevada and Arizona to turn out voters who did not cast ballots in 2016. In Philadelphia, the operation began October 1 and grew dramatically from 50 to 500 canvassers over five short weeks.

As part of UNITE HERE’s Take Back 2020 campaign, 1,700 canvassers—many of them Black and Latinx union members whose jobs and families were hit hard by COVID-19—knocked on the doors of three million Americans in Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Florida to encourage them to vote. These efforts helped drive the unprecedented turnout of this presidential election and will make the critical difference that wins the presidency for Joe Biden.

“I’m incredibly proud of UNITE HERE and our members,” said UNITE HERE International President D. Taylor, “It was clear that we needed to take back our country, and even more clear how to do it: through face-to-face conversations and the type of in-person organizing that our union does best. With Take Back 2020, we built a program that made a critical difference in Nevada, Arizona, and Pennsylvania, and we thank the other labor unions, progressive allies, and individual donors that worked with us to accomplish that goal.”

By the Numbers

3 million doors were knocked by UNITE HERE canvassers in Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Florida
462,135 infrequent voters pledged to vote for Biden/Harris via a conversation with a UNITE HERE canvasser
120,775 of voters spoken to by a UNITE HERE canvasser had not voted in in 2016 in their current state
Over two-thirds of our conversations were with voters of color
10 million phone numbers were dialed by UNITE HERE phone bankers

ARIZONA

Susan Minato, Co-President, UNITE HERE Local 11
“UNITE HERE Local 11 has been running political campaigns in Arizona since 2007. During this pandemic, this cycle has been no exception. We knocked on 800,000 doors, made 2.5 million calls, and talked to 250,000 Arizonans. More important than any demographic changes, it is the face-to-face conversations with voters that has made Arizona turn blue in 2020.”

NEVADA

Geoconda Argüello-Kline, Secretary-Treasurer, UNITE HERE’s Culinary Union:
“The Culinary Union is proud to have mobilized tens of thousands of hospitality workers and voters to elect representatives who will fight for our families. Because of the efforts of the largest political team comprised of 500 UNITE HERE and Culinary Union canvassers on the ground statewide who knocked on 500,000 doors. The unprecedented turnout in Nevada, which was led by those most directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, is a mandate on Donald Trump’s failed leadership. Ever since he assumed the office, Trump has been a daily threat to the livelihoods of workers and our families. We are taking back our country and delivering Nevada for political candidates who will represent working families and fight for our issues. Nevadans need comprehensive COVID-19 relief now, a fair economy that centers workers, racial justice that ensures Black Lives Matter, and a democracy that includes all of us – whether we are Black or white, Native or new immigrant, Latinx or Asian.”

PHILADELPHIA

Nicole Hunt, President, UNITE HERE Local 634
“This is what we do as a union—we organize. The members I work with are primarily Black and Brown leaders who need to see a change in this country. They had lost hope in the system so they did not vote last election and they may not have this year either. But we went to them to help them find their voice, to let them know their vote matters. We’re proud of the work we have done, and we are proud to have taken our country back.”

Rosslyn Wuchinich, President, UNITE HERE Local 274
“We believe we made the difference in Pennsylvania by focusing our efforts in the disenfranchised Black and Brown communities where most of our members live. Four years ago, when a hotel owner won the State of Pennsylvania and the White House, we pledged to do whatever was needed to take back our country. And despite a pandemic that has devastated our industries and our communities, we did just that. That is a testament to how our union brings together those from all walks of life to harness our collective power and win for all working people.”

“The key takeaway from this election is that working people were the saviors of democracy – workers did the essential door-to-door canvassing and everyday working voters turned out; with their votes comes a mandate for change to help working and low-wealth people,” said UNITE HERE Secretary-Treasurer and acting Political Campaigns Director Gwen Mills, “We expect the administration to provide economic relief for workers left jobless by COVID-19 and to support workers to join unions.  Protecting access to quality health care, implementing structural change for racial equity and immigration reform, and insuring workers are at the center of the economic transition necessary for climate change are the key issues.  UNITE HERE is proud to have made a critical difference in this election so that agenda can move forward.”

Arizona’s Largest Political Field Operation

Election Day will Mark 800,000 door knocks for Arizona’s Largest Political Field Operation

300 canvassers operating out of five offices across greater Phoenix focused on winning Arizona for Biden/Harris, Mark Kelly for Senate, and pro-working-family candidates in state and local races

Phoenix, Arizona: In an Election Day push to get out the vote in Arizona, more than 300 canvassers with UNITE HERE Local 11 will launch their final door-to-door field canvass to elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and Mark Kelly. These efforts make the campaign the largest on-the-ground field operation in Arizona for the Biden/Harris presidential ticket and U.S Senate candidate Mark Kelly, as well as races to flip the state legislature in support of pro-worker candidates and to win the state-wide education funding measure Proposition 208.

UNITE HERE Local 11 and CASE Action project that their canvass will have yielded 800,000 door knocks and resulted in 200,000 in-person conversations with voters. They have also made over 2.5 million phone calls and talked to more than 60,000 voters on the phone. Key canvassers and campaign directors will be monitoring nation-wide election results at the campaign headquarters and will be available for in-person interviews.

Local 11 launched its canvass in July with community organizing partner CASE Action and has been knocking on 20,000 doors a day for Biden and Kelly, as well as state and local candidates and issues. UNITE HERE Local 11 was the first organization in the country to develop COVID-19 safety protocols that would enable political canvassers to safely return to the field. Since then, other campaigns across the country have looked to the union’s efforts and begun to use similar safety models.

UNITE HERE affiliates in the key swing states of Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Florida are also running the largest political field operations in their respective states. The union is committed to seeing the election process through and ensuring that every vote is counted.

LA City Council Votes NO on Millions in Relief to Airport Concessions Giant

Workers Applaud LA City Council Vote on Relief for Billionaire HMS Host

Los Angeles, CA: Today, the Los Angeles City Council stood with workers and unanimously voted down a relief and lease extension package for airport concessions giant HMS Host. The deal was estimated to be worth tens of millions in lease extension-related revenue and rent relief for HMS Host.

HMS Host workers install themselves outside Los Angeles City Hall

“I stand with hard-working Angelenos, and not multinational corporations that try to exploit them and steal their wages. I am happy to support struggling businesses at LAX that treat their workers properly, but refuse to offer that assistance to a company that has violated the living wage ordinance meant to protect LAX workers. I am proud that the City Council stands united in this effort,” said District 11 Councilmember Mike Bonin.

HMS Host at LAX worker Donisa Robinson shares her experience in a poster outside LA City Hall“I want to thank the Los Angeles City Council for standing with me and my coworkers. This pandemic has been devastating for many of us and to be seen and heard by our elected officials means so much to us,” said Donisa Robinson, a laid-off Sushi Chef at HMS Host.

After weeks of hearing from laid off airport workers about the devastating effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on workers and their families, the LA City Council once again did the right thing and stood by workers.

As detailed in a report released earlier this week by UNITE HERE Local 11, HMS Host is the largest operator of airport concessions in the United States. It is wholly owned by Italian corporation Autogrill, which increased its cash balance by 60% in the first six months of 2020. Its laid off workers say they are now struggling to survive, provide for their families, stay safe, and keep their housing.

“Thank you to the leadership of Councilmember Mike Bonin, Nury Martinez and the entire council for standing with laid off LAX workers today and not giving a massive and undeserved handout to HMS Host. We need more elected leaders willing to stand up to big corporations and the hospitality industry who since day one have been doing nothing but taking advantage of the pandemic to hurt workers instead of help them,” said Kurt Petersen, Co-President of UNITE HERE Local 11.

Last week, HMS Host workers filed a class action lawsuit alleging the company failed to pay workers the minimum living wages for airport workers required by Los Angeles’s Living Wage Ordinance. The suit also alleges that HMS Host failed to pay workers their vacation time when it carried out a mass layoff in March and April 2020. California law requires employers pay employees all earned wages and accrued vacation time immediately upon layoff.

Debbie Lewis, HMS Host worker and lawsuit plaintiff

LAX’s Largest Concessionaire HMS Host Faces Class Action Wage Lawsuit

Press Contact: Maria Hernandez | 623-340-8047 | mhernandez@unitehere11.org

Contact for Lawsuit: Lauren Teukolsky | 626-522-8982 x 101 | lauren@teuklaw.com

Copy of complaint here

Los Angeles, CA. Laid off airport workers announced a class action lawsuit on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall Thursday alleging that corporate giant HMS Host failed to pay wages owed its workers under the City’s Living Wage Ordinance and California law.

“Unemployed workers needed their earned wages in the middle of a global pandemic to pay for rent, groceries, medical bills and the other necessities of life. If our claims are successful, we estimate that Host could owe several millions of dollars in back wages and penalties. We hope that justice will prevail and these workers will be made whole,” said Lauren Teukolsky, an attorney representing the plaintiffs.

Lawyers and plaintiffs confer over class action lawsuit against HMS Host

The suit alleges that HMS Host has failed to pay the plaintiffs Debra Lewis, Marlene Mendoza, and Lotus Perez-Silva and other workers the minimum living wages for airport workers required by the Living Wage Ordinance and that the company failed to rectify the problem even in the face of multiple complaints from employees. The suit also alleges that HMS Host failed to pay workers their vacation time when it carried out a mass layoff in March and April 2020. California law requires employers pay employees all wages and accrued vacation time immediately upon layoff.

“Fifty cents per hour may not sound like a lot. Unused vacation pay may not sound like a lot. But to all of us who were laid off back in March, it means food, it means gas, it means shelter. That money can mean the difference between hope and hopelessness,” said Debra Lewis, a plaintiff in the case and HMS Host worker at LAX for 34 years. “I am proud to be standing up for myself and my coworkers and have filed this lawsuit to ensure we are paid everything we are owed under the law.”

Debbie Lewis, HMS Host worker and lawsuit plaintiff

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 and increased its cash balance by an estimated 60% in the first six months of this year.

“Throughout this pandemic, we have watched in horror as huge, wealthy companies have tried to cash in on programs meant to help small businesses and working families. And now HMS Host wants the same kind of benefit. It’s such a shame,” said Michelle Saylor, executive director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice. 

HMS Host is presently seeking a relief package from the City of Los Angeles which UNITE HERE Local 11 estimates is worth more a $100 million in lease extension-related revenue and rent relief. HMS Host’s contract with the City and the terms of the proposed relief package require that it comply with wage laws. Workers are asking the City Council to reject the relief package for HMS Host, which may be voted on next week.

HMS Host LAX workers and Ron Herrera outside Los Angeles City Hall

“Airport workers like Debbie make LAX run, and the City of Los Angeles has a responsibility to them, not multi-billion-dollar companies like HMS Host. These workers have the full support of the LA Labor movement and we ask the City of Los Angeles to reject a lease and rent deduction package for HMS Host,” said Ron Herrera International Vice President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the President of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

The press conference comes the same day that HMS Host has announced what it has called a “permanent layoff” of hundreds of workers at airports in Orange County, CA, and elsewhere across the country. As of today, they will lose recall rights and the security of knowing they will be able to return to their jobs once the COVID-19 crisis subsides.

LAX airport workers rally as HMS Host workers announce class action lawsuit

The class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of the plaintiff workers by Lauren Teukolsky of Teukolsky Law, APC; Josh Young of Gilbert & Sackman, ALC; and Jeremy Blasi.

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UNITE HERE Local 11 is the union of more than 32,000 workers in hotels, restaurants, airports, sports arenas & convention centers in So. California & Arizona.

While Laid-off Workers Struggle to Survive, Corporate Giant HMS Host Seeks Millions in Extra COVID-19 Aid

Los Angeles, CA: Dozens of laid off airport workers protested outside the offices of concessions giant HMS Host Friday, claiming the company is past due on money it owes to its workers.

After delivering a “past due notice,” workers caravanned to the district offices of all fifteen L.A city councilmembers to urge them to reject a lease and rent reduction package for HMS Host currently awaiting the council’s vote.

Workers filed complaints with the City in 2019, alleging a failure to pay the applicable minimum wage to HMS Host workers. Workers have not received any payments to compensate them for the alleged minimum wage violations which are estimated to total more than $100,000.

Last week, the airport’s governing board, LAWA, approved a financial package for HMS Host and other companies worth millions of dollars. To be eligible for relief, concessionaires must be in compliance with all City ordinances. Workers assert that HMS Host’s failure to pay the unpaid wages as alleged in the workers’ complaints—despite reportedly being sent notices from the City to address the issue—makes them ineligible for relief.

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.  Autogrill is reportedly negotiating an aid package with the Italian government worth over $350 million.

 The majority of HMS Host workers at LAX have been laid off since March; the workers are over 90% people of color, over 20% Black, and primarily live in the communities hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Statement Regarding Governor Newsom’s Action on AB 3216

AB 3216 would simply have allowed hospitality workers to return to their jobs as the industry reopens. This veto is devastating to the low wage workers who built the hospitality industry, especially women of color, who were looking for a leader to walk with them through this time of struggle. The most powerful elected Democrat in the state sided with the wealthy hotel owners of the Terranea Resort and Chateau Marmont instead of hardworking hotel workers. The pain for immigrant workers is compounded by the Governor’s additional vetoes of AB 826 (emergency food assistance to immigrants) and SB 1257 (workplace safety protections for domestic workers). Our families and communities lose with the combined impact of these actions. We are thankful to all of the Democratic legislators who stood with the working poor and supported these essential protections.

The housekeepers, dishwashers, and cooks who led this fight are committed to upholding our democracy. Workers are already on their way to join their brothers and sisters to walk door to door in searing heat of Arizona to save democracy by electing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Our commitment to our values and our vision stands strong. When we’re done getting out the vote for this election, we’ll return and fight to make it right for California workers, even if it’s hard to imagine how in this moment of heartache.

Ada Briceño, co-president
Susan Minato, co-president
Kurt Petersen, co-president

“What am I to do without the job that I’ve depended on for so long? Am I supposed to beg my boss not to replace me? I came to the Capitol with hope in my heart that Governor Newsom would hear my story and stand with me as a leader and a Democrat. Instead I see that I will depend on my coworkers so we can defend ourselves against the power of Disney, the Chateau Marmont and the other mega-corporations, and this has always been the truth we face.”

— Maria Sanchez, laid-off worker at Aramark, Anaheim Convention Center

LAX Workers Protest Alleged Violation of LAX Minimum Wage Law

Activists claim HMS Host is Ineligible for Rent Relief

Los Angeles, CA: Laid-off concessions workers spoke outside Terminal 4 on Thursday claiming that multibillion-dollar concessionaire HMS Host is ineligible for rent relief due to an outstanding violation of the LAX living wage law. Workers filed complaints with the City in 2019, alleging a failure to pay the minimum wage to HMS Host workers. Workers have not received any payments to compensate them for the alleged minimum wage violation.

This comes on a day when LAWA is considering an extensive second relief package for concessions companies. To be eligible for relief, concessionaires must be in compliance with all City ordinances.

“No company can get away with paying below the minimum wage here at the airport, especially not the big rich ones like HMS Host,” said Marlene Mendoza who was worked at HMS Host at LAX for 32 years. “If the airport keeps giving them money even if they don’t follow the rules, why would they ever follow the rules? No more relief for HMS Host!”

Marlene Mendoza.jpeg

HMS Host is the largest operator of airport concessions in the United States. It is owned by Italian giant Autogrill, which is controlled by the billionaire Benetton family and their global holding firm Edizione. Edizione assets were valued at $13.8 billion at the end of 2019. Autogrill is reportedly negotiating an aid package with the Italian government worth over $350 million dollars.

“For many workers, this back pay is worth hundreds of dollars. Right now, when we are laid-off indefinitely, this money is more important than ever. It means food, it means gas, it means shelter. I can’t believe Host still hasn’t paid us” said Debra Lewis who has worked at HMS Host at LAX for 34 years.

Hundreds of laid-off HMS Host are struggling to stay fed, pay rent, and keep their families safe and healthy during the pandemic. Over 90% of LAX concessions workers are people of color and over 20% are Black.

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UNITE HERE Local 11 is the union of more than 32,000 workers in hotels, restaurants, airports, sports arenas & convention centers in So. California & Arizona.

Local 11 Statement on Disney Laying Off Cast Members Due to COVID-19

Cast members plan Caravan to Capitol Wednesday, Ask Gov. Newsom to Sign AB 3216

Anaheim, CA: UNITE HERE Local 11 just learned that Disney will lay off approximately 950 of our nearly 3,000 members, effective November 1.  The Union will engage in bargaining with the company over issues including job security and healthcare coverage.  This highlights the urgent need for AB 3216, the California State law that guarantees recall and retention for hospitality workers. We are asking Governor Gavin Newsom to sign AB 3216 now.

Tomorrow, furloughed Disney workers will caravan to the California State Capitol to ask Governor Gavin Newsom sign AB 3216. AB 3216 would guarantee the most experienced of these workers the ability to return to their jobs when the crisis subsides. Governor Gavin Newsom has until September 30 to sign AB 3216.

The caravan comes after Disney announced it would lay off 28,000 of its cast members due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I love my job, which is why as a mom of five kids I am asking Governor Gavin Newsom sign AB 3216 to ensure that hundreds of thousands of workers like myself have the opportunity to return to their job once the pandemic is over” said Ines Guzman, furloughed housekeeper at the Disneyland Hotel for 5 years.

“Our members have given decades of their lives to companies like Disney. Now through no fault of their own, they are being laid off. We urge Governor Gavin Newson to sign AB 3216 a lifeline for hospitality workers” said Ada Briceño, Chair of the Democratic Party of Orange County and Co-President of UNITE HERE Local 11.

Frontline LAX Workers Stage “Die-In” for Extended Healthcare

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.