Why Miami airport workers are on a hunger strike during Super Bowl week

“Our members work for a living,” NFLPA executive DeMaurice Smith told workers protesting at the Miami airport Monday morning. “They’re the ones who break their backs, they’re the ones who break their hands, they’re the ones who actually do they work. We’re labor. They’re management, we’re labor.”

Smith was attempting to counter a common misconception: that athletes’ unions don’t require or offer the same kind of solidarity found within larger unions of lower-income laborers, like teacher’s unions, healthcare workers unions, or in the case of UNITE HERE — the union behind the protest — hospitality, transportation and manufacturing workers across the country. He spoke in support of UNITE HERE’s current public escalation, a six-day fast at the Miami Airport by airline catering workers who have been fighting for fair pay and healthcare for over a year.

“When we have people like the NFLPA come support us and draw the parallel between our plight and what the players themselves go through, it shows that at the end of the day it’s still taking on the boss,” says Diana Hussein, a communications specialist at UNITE HERE.

“This week, we’ll be at one of the biggest parties in the world,” Smith told the crowd. “But behind every party and flight are people working just to put food on their family’s table. To American, who is shuttling people into Miami for the Super Bowl, shame on you for not providing a living wage.”

Miami is an American Airlines hub, and American is one of the biggest clients of catering corporation LSG Sky Chefs, whose 20,000 workers nationally are represented by UNITE HERE. That meant Super Bowl week was a perfect time for workers to put pressure on the airline and its subcontractor, who have successfully skirted recent living wage ordinances for Miami airport workers.

LSG Sky Chefs employees make $10 an hour with around $100 a week deducted if they want access to health coverage (which is itself insufficient). According to UNITE HERE, 48 percent of the company’s Miami employees depend on government-funded healthcare programs for themselves or their children — all while American posts over $1 billion in annual profits. The union is pushing for LSG Sky Chefs employees to be paid a $15 national minimum wage.

UNITE HERE protesters fasting at Miami International Airport.

“People are coming here for the Super Bowl to party and have fun — for the glitz and the glamour,” says Ibis Boggiano, a 52-year-old Cuban immigrant who lives in Miami and is one of the fasting protesters, speaking through a translator. “We want people to understand the reality of what it means to live here — the struggles we go through every single day.”

Boggiano has worked for LSG Sky Chefs for two and a half years, preparing hot meals to be served on planes. Paying her rent and her bills hasn’t gotten any easier, though, which connects her to the eight other fasters who have set up an encampment in Terminal D at the Miami airport.

Their financial situations have gotten so dire that they chose to spend six days consuming nothing but water, sleeping on cots at the local. Boggiano and her fellow protesters, some of whom have traveled from as far away as San Francisco and Minneapolis, are hoping that seeing the juxtaposition between a group of workers literally putting their bodies on the line and the cheery polish of a city putting on an enormous, publicly subsidized party will force people to pay attention to the unfair working conditions they’re facing.

“I’ve never done anything like this, ever in my life,” Boggiano adds. “It’s really hard. But I’m doing it because I have to; we’re going to last until the sixth day. I’m here, and I’m not going to give up.”

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