Restaurant workers at “America’s Friendliest Airport” are on strike Wednesday due to their unheard requests for more staff to handle the influx of customers.
Nearly three months after they formally expressed their concern of being overworked and understaffed, HMS Host (HMS) employees at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport went on strike at 4 am Wednesday. They are expected to protest all day.
UNITE Here Local 11 hospitality union represents over 32,000 hospitality workers in Arizona and Southern California, including the Sky Harbor HMS workers. Workers came to the union months ago and solicited them for assistance. “Baristas were the first to come forward about the impact understaffing has had on their working environment: a rushed pace of work, long lines of often irate customers, and an inability on occasion to take restroom breaks,” said Unite Here Local 11.
Representatives from the union issued a formal letter outlining and explaining the problems employees are facing. A copy of that letter was also delivered to eight council members and Mayor Kate Gallego. Councilman Sal DiCiccio said at the time, “HMS Host has an obligation to rectify this situation, not only for their employees but for the people of Phoenix and everyone traveling via Sky Harbor. They need to rehire and increase staffing in line with the increase in passenger traffic.”
The workers’ concerns were left unaddressed since the June request, so they took to the curbside of Terminal 4 to get their point across.
A spokeswoman for the union, Rachel Smith, said that understaffing has taken an emotional and physical toll on employees. Barista Victoria Stahl expressed, “We’re tired of doing the job of two or three people and not getting recognized and not getting any backup from our managers and from the company.”
HMS operates many of the restaurants within Sky Harbor Airport, including four Starbucks, Shake Shack, Blanco Tacos + Tequila, and Cowboy Ciao. Operations have nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels for months now, yet the number of employees has significantly dropped. Those who are currently employed are facing extreme demands to meet the needs of the customers and the company.
Starbucks had 139 employees prior to the pandemic but now only has 55. HMS’ workforce as a whole now only employs 569 people — 250 less than they did in 2019.