SGV Tribune

LAX concession workers seek extended healthcare coverage

A relief package to help concessionaires and employees at LAX who are suffering because of a slowdown in passenger traffic is in the works.

Management at Los Angeles International Airport is looking to provide financial assistance to concessionaires and their laid off and furloughed workers who are all struggling to get by as travel plummets amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Last week, the CEO and staff of Los Angeles World Airports recommended a temporary relief program for the 4,000 employees represented by Unite Here, Local 11. It would forgive concessionaires’ minimum rent for April, May and June, although vendors would continue to provide health insurance coverage for workers who have been laid-off, furloughed or had their hours reduced since March 1.

Employees who have been laid off or furloughed will not receive wages but can apply for unemployment benefits.

Concessionaires could also defer payment of percentage rent — an additional payment based on gross sales — through Dec. 31. They would be required to recall laid-off workers in proportion to their uptick in sales as business returns.

Large global companies would be required to pass the relief on to smaller subcontractors and tenants.

Duty Free Shops, which employs more than 250 workers at LAX, has already agreed to pay for laid-off workers’ health insurance through August, a longer period of time than is being recommended by airport staff.

An online petition

The relief package emerged after more than a thousand Unite Here workers submitted an online petition last month to LAWA and the Los Angeles City Council seeking help.

Airport commissioners will vote on the package Thursday. If they give the OK, it will head to the L.A. City Council for final approval. Councilman Mike Bonin, whose 11th District includes LAX, expressed his support in an April 8 post on Facebook.

“I’m proud to stand with Unite Here and other workers to make sure we take care of everyone during this crisis, and to fight to rebuild an economy that works for everyone,” Bonin wrote.

Situation is getting worse

Elizabeth Mejia, who had worked as a server with the Areas USA restaurant in Terminal 5, said her situation is getting worse.

“This has affected us enormously,” the 30-year-old Los Angeles resident said. “On March 20 when I got home from work, they texted me and said the restaurant was closed. Twelve days later I was told to show up at work with my badge. That’s when they laid us off.”

Mejia’s husband works as a mechanic for Delta, but his hours have been cut, she said.

“It’s really stressful,” she said. “We seeing if we can delay payment on some of our bills and I applied for unemployment, but I’m still waiting on payment for that.”

Hourly wages for concession workers at the airport range from $15.25 to $22.

Heavy layoffs

A report submitted last week to the Board of Airport Commissioners notes that passenger traffic at LAX has fallen by about 90% year over year, with sales declines mirroring that downward trend.

As of March 26, concessionaires had laid off or furloughed 1,390 workers out of the 4,000 employed prior to the decline in passenger traffic, and that number has likely risen dramatically since then.

Rent is one of the largest operating expenses for concessionaires, the report said, and concession sales have fallen below the percentage rent threshold.

“We applaud the airport staff for recommending that relief available to employers be contingent upon commensurate relief for their laid-off workers,” said Susan Minato, co-president of Unite Here, Local 11. “In the midst of a public health crisis, people who are laid-off for an extended period of time must have access to healthcare.”