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Why workers at Sky Harbor Airport went on strike this week

Early this week, workers at Sky Harbor Airport walked out on the job for a third time. SSP America is a subcontractor with the city of Phoenix that employs hundreds of restaurant and concession workers at the airport.

Meschelle Hornstein has worked at Sky Harbor for nine years. She said events following the two previous walkouts influenced this one.

"We believe that SSP is punishing workers in a discriminatory way for their union involvement," Hornstein said. 

Unite Here Local 11 is the union that represents workers like Hornstein. In addition to the strike, it filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board.

“In our charge, we listed 19 disciplines and three terminations that have been issued in a way that we allege discriminates against pro-union employees,” said Hornstein.

Also at issue are changes to the company’s payroll.

“They didn't offer to negotiate this or even notify the Union,” Hornstein said. “And so as a result, the rollout of this was very clunky and a lot of people were being paid late.”

According to Hornstein, the union has urged the city to investigate SSP as its subcontractor and consider taking action.

“We really hope that the city of Phoenix can take a good look at who their contractor is and some of this ridiculous behavior,” Hornstein said.

Union members have brought the issue to the city council, she said, but so far there “hasn’t really been a huge response from them.”

“We have some people that support us on the City Council,” Hornstein added. “But, as a whole, there hasn’t been a ton of responsibility taking on that side.”

The union’s central goal remains the same: settling a contract.

“We do a lot to make this company the money that we make them and we do it with a smile on our face,” said Hornstein. “And we do it with broken equipment. Or we do it short-staffed, and we do it with not enough product. We do it with all of these extra hurdles that continue to be placed in front of us, and we still make it happen for them. So we’re asking them to make it happen for us, too.”

For Hornstein, and for others who have been in the job for years, it’s personal.

“This is my career,” she said. “I have a 7-year-old daughter and I take care of us, and I don’t plan on leaving this job until I decide it’s time to retire. So I am asking this job to show me that they value me as much as they try to tell me they value us. Don’t use your words. [Show] it at the negotiating table, and show me with my contract how much you actually respect me.”

SSP America did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kirsten Dorman is a field correspondent at KJZZ. Born and raised in New Jersey, Dorman fell in love with audio storytelling as a freshman at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2019.