Business

Some city council members are putting pressure on American Airlines. Here’s why.

Some Charlotte city council members are putting pressure on American Airlines to help raise wages for employees who work for contracted third-party companies at the airport. But other council members are worried they’re going too far.

Council voted Monday to postpone a vote to renew a cargo and catering facility lease with American Airlines at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

The lease agreement would be a rent raise for the airline, which was already paying to using the space on a month-to-month basis. Some council members said the lease agreement was a good opportunity to put pressure on the airline to hold other third-party companies accountable for low wages.

Council member Dimple Ajmera said at the Monday meeting LSG Sky Chefs and HMS Hosts, which contract with American Airlines, are not paying their employees a livable wage.

“We as a city shouldn’t economically benefit from the agreement at the expense of workers who are making less than $9 an hour,” Ajmera said in a statement. “We have an opportunity and responsibility to negotiate a win-win solution for all parties involved.”

Council member Ed Driggs said he was troubled by what he saw as the city interfering with the airline’s business.

“Ordinarily it wouldn’t be up to us as a city to get into the middle of an issue like that, we’re just landlords to the airport,” he said.

Sky Chef workers voted on July 18 to strike when legally able, which would be 30 days after workers were released by the National Mediation Board. LSG Sky Chefs workers are members of the Unite Here Local 23 workers union. The union is planning to request permission to strike from the National Mediation Board this week.

A report prepared by the union found that the minimum wage for airline catering workers in Charlotte was the lowest of any hub airport at $8.40 per hour.

“Local elected officials at airports across the country have taken action to change wages and working conditions. Charlotte should do the same,” said Gloria Mickle, who has worked as an airline catering worker at Charlotte Douglas International Airport for 7 years, in a statement from the union. “American Airlines profited billions and billions of dollars, but I still have to work more than one job just to make ends meet.”

American Airlines spokesperson Crystal Byrd said the airline is not involved in negotiations between catering employees’ union and their employers.

“While we were disappointed in last night’s action to defer, we look forward to meeting with council members on the matter in the weeks ahead,” American Airlines said in a statement.

The renewal was scheduled for the council’s consent agenda, which Driggs said is usually reserved for what staff determine to be non-controversial issues, but council member Braxton Winston pulled the renewal out of the consent agenda for discussion.

The new cargo and catering facility lease would change from a month-to-month lease to a 10-year lease.

The new agreement would raise the annual rent by about 35%, Ajmera said.

Annual rent for the facility under the agreement would be $396,610.50, making the total 10-year lease worth $3.97 million. Deferring the approval of the new lease means the airline will continue to rent the space on the lower, month-to-month lease.

Revenue from the lease goes to the aviation department’s operating budget, according to the city council business meeting agenda.

The facility includes 17,379 square feet of office space and 65,584 square feet of cargo space.

At the Monday council meeting, Driggs said the advantages to having an American Airlines hub in Charlotte are huge.

Driggs said the vote would be deferred for a month and will be revisited during the August council business meeting.

“I just want to stress the incredible importance of our relationship with American Airlines and our appreciation of their presence here,” Driggs said. “And I hope this conversation doesn’t in any way take away from that, because if we interfere too much with their conduct or their business, that’s not good for us.”

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Hannah Smoot covers business in Charlotte, focusing on aviation and health care. She previously covered money and power at The Rock Hill Herald in South Carolina. She is a lifelong North Carolinian and graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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