July 16, 2013
By Neal Tepel
UNITE HERE has been in negotiations with Gate Gourmet since May 2012 and was able to reach a possible agreement with the company. The major sticking point during negotiations was a wage increase. Workers are scheduled to vote on the tentative contract this week. The 900 O’Hare Gate Gourmet workers are represented by UNITE HERE Local 1.
According to the union, Gate Gourmet workers saw a wage cut in 2005 and have not had a raise since 2011.
“Workers are just looking for the wage increase they feel they deserve,” said Carly Karmel, spokesperson for UNITE HERE Local 1. “They made sacrifices in 2005, when the economic recession hit the travel and airline industry so hard, but since the industry has recovered, the workers at Gate Gourmet are still making sacrifices.”
Karmel said the devastating blow to airlines during the economic recession trickled down to affect employment and wages throughout all sectors of the travel industry, including catering companies such as Gate Gourmet.
But, as airlines have increased passenger fares and fees, much of the industry as a whole is on the rebound.
"The workers made sacrifices, and they feel now is the time to speak out for a wage increase," said Karmel.
While the average Gate Gourmet chef made $10 per hour in 2002, they now earn $9.50 per hour. According to UNITE HERE, the average Gate Gourmet dishwasher earned $8.45 per hour in 2002, but now only makes an hourly wage of $8.50.
Gategroup, Gate Gourmet’s parent company, saw revenues increase 11 percent in the first nine months of 2012. Revenue generated from operations during that time period reached more than $70 million for the company, up from roughly $45 million during the same time period in 2011.
Gate Gourmet said UNITE HERE workers at O'Hare will be provided with higher wages pending ratification of the tentative contract.
“It’s been tough," said George Means, a 58 year-old lifelong Chicagoan who earns $10.30 per hour. "I don’t know if they’re willing to give us what we need,” he said. “I live paycheck to paycheck, and every month is a struggle.”