News on Oakland Airport concession workers struggling for justice on the job.

In These Times: Workers Try to Organize Airport Subway, Get Fired

OAKLAND, CA—This city is supposed to be a union town, but out at the airport, workers say they’re getting fired for trying to join one. The airport is administered by the Oakland Port Commission, whose members, appointed by the mayor, are mostly viewed as progressives. The commission has passed a living wage ordinance that not only sets a level much higher than state or national minimum wage laws, but also requires companies who rent space to respect the labor rights of their workers.

One of the workers fired recently is Hakima Arhab, who says she lost her job at the Subway concession after she complained about violations of the ordinance, and because she and her coworkers are trying to join UNITE HERE Local 2850.

Arhab told her story to Working In These Times:

I worked at Subway for a year and a half. When I got the job there I thought that I would have a better life. It should be a good job. I thought I’d have more money, and be able to afford a few more things for myself, and be able to send money to my home country, because I have family there. When I started at the airport I was getting $12.82 an hour, and then it went up to $13.05. Read the full article.

KPFA: Fired Oakland Airport Workers Speak Out

The union seeking to represent workers at concession stands at the Oakland International Airport says the private companies running those concessions are skirting laws meant to protect labor rights. The airport operates under the control of the Port of Oakland, a quasi-public agency. The Port has a Living Wage law in effect that guarantees all workers at the airport—even those working for private companies renting space there—decent pay, and 12 sick days per year. Those private companies are also, under their lease agreements, supposed to keep –quote–“labor peace”. But workers who’ve been trying to unionize some of those concessions say they haven’t found it very peaceful. We spoke to one of them and then called the Port of Oakland to get a response. Listen to the complete piece here.

East Bay Express: Workers Allege Violations at Oakland Airport

The port and other governmental agencies are actively investigating several airport concessionaires for alleged wage, overtime, anti-union violations.

by Rachel Swan

Oakland’s 2002 living wage ordinance had honorable intentions: to provide family-sustaining jobs at the city’s port. Originally it applied only to businesses with twenty or more employees, but the port amended it in 2006 to cover a much broader swath of the maritime and aviation industry — including all businesses run by Oakland Airport’s primary contractor, HMSHost, and any subcontractor that signed a lease after 2006, regardless of size. The idea was not only to make sure a voter-approved ordinance had teeth, but also to ensure that port businesses hewed to the spirit of the law, and not just the letter.

Unfortunately, some businesses don’t share that vision: The operator of a See’s Candies franchise still refuses to abide by the living wage ordinance, citing a loophole that she says grandfathers her in. There is also evidence that a Subway franchise is violating overtime laws by assigning employees to work consecutive shifts at the airport sandwich shop and at a nearby gas station it owns, with no overtime pay. As of two weeks ago, Subway had also fired two of its workers, allegedly for union activity.

In fact, workers have filed a whole litany of complaints against the eight sublessee concessionaires at Oakland International Airport, some of which they expressed during a spirited public comment session at the July 26 Port Commission meeting. Complaints filed with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement accuse Subway of stiffing workers on overtime and ten-minute breaks, and of circumventing overtime laws by having employees clock in at different Subway locations — i.e., at Oakland Airport and the one on Washington Avenue, which are both owned by Navdeep and Gurinder Grewal. The Grewals referred all questions to their attorney, Michael Foster, who was unavailable for comment. Read the full article.

Fri, 8/3: Join fired OAK workers on the picket line!

Friday, August 3, 11 am – 1 pm
Oakland Airport Terminal 2

Hakima Arhab and Bikram Thapa, workers at the Oakland Airport Subway, were recently FIRED after they spoke out against unfair working conditions at the airport. Both Hakima and Bikram had recently filed claims against Subway for violations of state and local labor laws. Bikram participated in a July 6th airport picket organized by UNITE HERE Local 2850, and Hakima had appeared in flyers and videos calling on her co-workers to fight for justice on the job.

“I used to work 12-hour days at Subway, with no overtime pay. I started telling my co-workers that we had to speak out and stop Subway from breaking the law. All of a sudden, my boss said he had no work for me,” says Hakima. “Now I’m fighting to get my job back and to make sure no one else is treated like I was in the Oakland Airport.”

Join Hakima, Bikram and their co-workers for a picket of non-union food service subcontractors at the Oakland Airport!

For questions or rides, contact Lian Alan at [email protected] or 510-219-6491.

BACKGROUND: In early July, workers from eight non-union food service subcontractors at the Oakland Airport launched a public campaign for justice on the job. They filed claims against employers for numerous violations of federal, state and local labor laws. They also demanded a fair process to decide whether to join a union without interference from their bosses.

On July 19, Oakland Airport Subway owner Navdeep Grewal fired Bikram Thapa and Hakima Arhab, both of whom had filed claims for labor law violations and participated in activities organized by UNITE HERE Local 2850. Last Thursday, Hakima, Bikram, and other workers called on the Port Commission to investigate labor abuses at Subway and other food service subcontractors. The Port theoretically requires employers in the airport to comply with all applicable labor laws and prohibits retaliation against workers who file complaints. But so far, the Port has not taken any action to address the workers’ concerns. In fact, the Port actually issued citations to several workers for entering the airport on their days off to speak with their employers about problems on the job.

The non-union workers have gotten support from other airport food service workers who are members of Local 2850. “Because I have a union job, I have health care for my son – and I can’t get fired for no reason just because my boss is mad at me,” says snack bar attendant Rehnaaz Nisha. “I think everyone who works in OUR airport should get the same opportunity as me.”

7/26: Fired Airport Whistle-blowers Speak Out!

Port Commission to Hear from Food Service Workers Fired After Reporting Labor Law Violations


Who: Hakima Arhab and Bikram Thapa, Oakland Airport Subway employees recently fired after they filed claims against Subway for violations of state and local labor laws; other airport food service workers; UNITE HERE Local 2850.

What: Hakima, Bikram and their co-workers will address the Oakland Port Commission, urging them to investigate and take action against airport food service subcontractors who have fired whistle-blowers.

When: Thursday, July 26. Workers will gather at 4:30 pm and enter the Port Commission meeting at 5 pm.

Where: Port of Oakland, 530 Water Street, Oakland.

Why: In early July, workers from eight non-union food service subcontractors at the Oakland Airport launched a public campaign for justice on the job. They filed claims against employers for numerous violations of federal, state and local labor laws. They also demanded a fair process to decide whether to join a union without interference from bosses.

In the past week, the Oakland Airport Subway owner Navdeep Grewal fired Bikram Thapa and Hakima Arhab, both of whom had filed claims for labor law violations. Bikram also participated in a July 6th rally outside the airport, organized by UNITE HERE Local 2850. Hakima had appeared in flyers and videos urging her co-workers to stand up for their rights.

“I used to work 12-hour days at Subway. I had no health care – I didn’t even get the breaks, overtime pay, or paid sick days we are supposed to get by law. I started telling my co-workers that we had to speak out and stop Subway from breaking the law. Now, all of a sudden, my boss has no work for me,” said Arhab.

This Thursday, Hakima, Bikram, and other workers will call on the Port Commission to investigate labor abuses at Subway and other food service subcontractors. The Port theoretically requires employers in the airport to comply with all applicable labor laws and prohibits retaliation against workers who file complaints. But so far, the Port has not taken any action to address the workers’ concerns. In fact, the Port actually disciplined several workers for entering the airport on their days off to speak with their employers about problems on the job.

The non-union workers will be joined by other airport food service workers who are members of UNITE HERE Local 2850. “Because I have a union job, I have health care for my son – and I can’t get fired for no reason just because my boss is mad at me,” said snack bar attendant Rehnaaz Nisha. “I think everyone who works in OUR airport should get the same opportunity as me.”

7/6/12: We Fly for Justice at OAK!

Rally for Good Jobs at OAK!
Friday, July 6, 11 am – 1 pm
Oakland Airport Terminal 2

MY NAME IS LIAM. I’m 24. This is my wife Erica and our 4-year-old daughters Li’ah and Li’eriah.

I work at the Subway in the Oakland Airport, and other Subway locations under the same managers. I WORK SEVEN DAYS A WEEK. Sometimes I go 2 months without a day off. I’ve never seen a dime of overtime. I barely have time to see my kids.

I HAVE NO HEALTH BENEFITS. When my girls get sick, I’m praying they get better on their own because I can’t take them to the doctor.

There are about 80 workers like me, employees of non-union food service subtenants at OAK. Airport food service workers that are union members get health care, fair schedules and RESPECT. We don’t have any of that. WE’RE LIKE THE SECOND-CLASS CITIZENS OF THE AIRPORT.

Now we are organizing to demand our rights! We want our bosses to agree to a fair process for us to decide if we want to join the union.

My managers found out I was organizing my co-workers. Within the week, they’d cut my regular work hours, taken me off the schedule for two days, and given me a final warning. But that didn’t stop me.

My co-workers and I are standing up for a better life. STAND WITH US!

Background on workers at the Oakland Airport