Paul Andrade has been a cook at LAX for 11 years, but the pay isn’t enough so he moonlights as a security guard.
He’s not alone. Scores of other cooks, cashiers, servers and bartenders who also work for concession operators at the airport are having a tough time as well.
“I have friends at work who are thinking about leaving,” Andrade said. “They’re struggling, hoping to go to someone’s house to rent a room or stay in their garage.”
The lack of a “livable wage” prompted a throng of airport workers to rally outside an industry conference in Santa Monica on Wednesday, Feb. 8 where they demanded a minimum wage hike so they can afford to rent in the city where they work.
The gathering took place outside the Airports Council International-North America CEO Forum and board of directors meeting where top executives discussed the global state of the industry.
The employees, represented by Unite Here Local 11, say the existing base wage of $18.04 an hour for concession workers not directly employed by LAX would require someone to work 17 hours a day to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles.
The average rent on a two-bedroom apartment in L.A. is $3,835, according to Rent.com.
Andrade, who earns $19.10 an hour working for the Flying Food Group catering company, is doing better than many.
“I took advantage of the market at the right time and bought a house that was affordable,” the 37-year-old Compton resident said. Still, Andrade said he’d like to earn at least $25 an hour with benefits.
Contract workers at the airport currently earn the $18.04 hourly minimum wage along with health benefits of $5.77 per hour, or $23.81 an hour without benefits under L.A.’s living wage ordinance.
Airports across the country were allocated $1 billion to provide concessionaires with pandemic-related rent relief, yet employees say they’ve seen no wage increases.
In a statement released Wednesday, Airports Council International-North America responded to their call for higher pay.
“Congress provided $1 billion of rent relief to airport concessionaires using airport operators as conduits for the financial assistance,” the council said. “The law says nothing about how the private entities were supposed to apply their rent relief.”
The council added that public airports have no role in setting the wages of their business partners.
Eleanor Ramos works as a bartender for Delaware North at LAX and earns the $18.04 minimum wage, which she says leaves her little breathing room when it comes to bills and rent.
Delaware operates a variety of airport concessions, including Original Farmers Market, Earthbar, and national brands such as WPizza by Wolfgang Puck.
“In 2017 I was paying $925 a month in rent, but a new landlord took over and raised it to $1,395 overnight,” the 53-year-old Hawthorne resident said. “Now I’m paying $1,695 a month. I have to watch what I spend.”
Representatives with Flying Food Group and Delware North could not be reached for comment.
Ramos would like to see her hourly pay jump to at least $25 with benefits as well. “Rent food, food, gas … everything has gone up,” she said.
Passenger service workers at LAX held a similar rally on Dec. 8 to demand higher wages and stronger benefits.
Those employees, who clean planes, handle baggage, assist wheelchair passengers and provide security, number around 2,500 and are also represented by Unite Here Local 11.