Courage on the Picket Line
by Andrew Moss
They prepare in-flight meals for carriers like Air France, Singapore Airlines, and Lufthansa.
But not right now.
Workers for the Flying Food Group (FFG) plant in Inglewood, California are on strike, demanding a living wage, a decent pension, the retention of their health benefits, and their dignity as workers. Represented by UNITE HERE Local 11, the 350 workers at the plant voted overwhelmingly (99 percent) on March 15 to authorize a strike action against their employer, and they went out on strike on April 11.
The workers are protesting not only low wages and a threat to their health benefits but also company actions they have cited as unfair labor practices and as threats to their health and safety. One complaint involves the bolting of emergency exit doors on a day when workers planned an informational picketing. Other filings claim ineffective company action in addressing sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination.
Visiting the picket line recently, I was impressed by the courage and determination of these workers. Though a principal demand for a living wage is the same as that sought by the 30,000 education workers who struck the LA Unified School District this past March, the FFG workers have far less visibility. Their plant is tucked away in an industrial area not far from the LA International Airport, and community awareness of their situation is miniscule compared to that of the education workers whose successful strike (joined in solidarity by 32,000 members of the United Teachers of Los Angeles) shut down LA public schools for three days.
Yet the FFG workers are persevering, motivated by a deep sense of the justice of their cause – and by the imperative of breaking free from an intolerable economic vise. Many of the workers are paid the minimum wage of $18.04 an hour, earnings that can’t possibly sustain a decent standard of living in a city with a soaring cost of living. The median monthly rent of a one-bedroom apartment in LA County ($1651, or $19,812 annually) takes a huge bite out of a salary based on that minimum wage. Combined with utility, transportation, and other costs, these expenses put workers on a paycheck to paycheck existence, causing them often to borrow in order to pay for emergency medical expenses and other needs. One local writer called this situation “living functionally broke.”
The FFG workers took a big, risky step when they went out on strike against a formidable adversary like Flying Food Group. With 15 locations around the country and $46 million in revenue last year, the company hardly felt compelled to accede to workers’ demands when the previous contract expired last summer.
Nevertheless, despite the challenges associated with this particular struggle, it is symptomatic of growing statewide and national discontent with income inequality that continues to rise. In California, families with incomes at the 90th percentile ($291,000) now make 11 times as much as those at the 10th percentile ($26,000), a significant increase from the differential in 1980 (seven times). And California, though ranked high in income inequality, still trails New York, Louisiana, and the District of Columbia in this respect.
The strike at Flying Food Group may not have the impact and widespread coverage that characterized last month’s education strike. But the workers at the Inglewood facility are backed by a local that is 32,000 strong: a local representing hotel, restaurant, and concession workers throughout Southern California and Arizona. And that local continues to advance the message that deepening inequality is neither inevitable nor immovable. Local 11, for example, is backing a proposed city ordinance in LA that would raise tourism workers’ wages to $25 an hour this year, and to $30 by 2028, when Los Angeles hosts the Olympics.
How the struggle at Flying Food Group plays out will rest, ultimately, on many factors, not least of which are the workers’ determination and the ability of the local to elicit support within the community. Then, too, there is an issue of awareness and understanding: how the outcome of a struggle like this pertains not only to the situation of the workers involved, but to the quality of a society and the democratic possibilities it nurtures or suppresses.
Andrew Moss, syndicated by PeaceVoice, writes on labor and immigration from Los Angeles. He is an emeritus professor (Nonviolence Studies, English) from the California State University.
Published: LA Progressive
© 2023 PeaceVoice