Maria Barraza says Phoenix is too hot to not have working A/C in LSG Sky Chefs delivery trucks.EXPAND
Maria Barraza says Phoenix is too hot to not have working A/C in LSG Sky Chefs delivery trucks.
Molly Longman

Union Workers at Sky Harbor Protest Lack of A/C in Trucks and Low Wages

We've all had that overly dramatic moment where we tell our moms or spouses about all the "blood, sweat, and tears" we've put in at the office.

But Maria Barraza can confirm she's put in a lot of sweat.

She's been working for the in-flight catering company LSG Sky Chefs for 14 years, where she helps delivery truck drivers get food to planes.

But the mother of four says the company has cut air-conditioning to their delivery trucks, making working all day in the heat with no break a sweaty and tiring process, particularly in Phoenix's average 109 days over 100 degrees each summer.

"It gets really hot," Barraza told Phoenix New Times with the help of a translator. "You start falling asleep from the heat and you get headaches."

But on Thursday, Barraza asked the Aviation Advisory Board to recommend changing the regulations to require air-conditioning for ground transportation motor vehicles.

Her advocacy didn't stop there. She and dozens of other workers and activists protested what they call "unacceptable" wages and working conditions in front of Sky Harbor International Airport's Terminal Four yesterday. The protesters walked in a circle carrying signs and chanting "Hey hey, ho ho, greedy airlines got to go!"

"I want to see a change in conditions to support our workers," Barraza said. "Last summer, it got up to 119 ... [it's] not right."

The crowd wasn't only composed of Sky Chefs workers, but also included a few people from airport concessions companies HMS Host and SSP America who were renegotiating contracts.

LSG Sky Chefs, which is owned by the airline catering company Lufthansa, responded in an email statement to New Times, noting the air-conditioning cuts were a product of practicality.

"LSG Sky Chefs is committed to providing a safe working environment for our employees," the statement said. "As a practical matter, air-conditioning in the cab of catering vehicles provides little benefit if drivers spend most of their time outside the cab of the truck, as is the case with our drivers and most of operations on the tarmac at airports."

The protests were organized by Unite Here, a union group for workers' rights. According to the group's press release, 40 other cities across the nation took part in a day of action for workers' rights.

An August study by the union group called "Danger Behind the Wheel" addressed the air-conditioning issues in-depth, receiving 386 responses from a survey of company drivers.

The study said workers reported spending about five-and-a-half hours in their trucks per shift and claimed one driver in a truck without air-conditioning passed out from dehydration, causing a crash at Sky Harbor.

"The report of an accident in Phoenix related to heat exhaustion is false," Sky Chefs said in their statement.

The company stated in a later email that an accident didn't occur because of dehydration, either.

Unite Here's survey said 47 percent of their respondents reported that company policy prohibits carrying drinking water inside of trucks.

LSG Sky Chefs clarified in their statement that "LSG Sky Chefs provides opportunities for employees to cool down and stay hydrated. This includes allowing them to bring water or other beverages into the cab of the truck," the statement reads. "Employees who have a specific concern or question should speak with their general manager."

But Thursday's rally was about showing a united front.

It was Arizona State Representative Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, who got everyone fired up when it was his turn with the megaphone used earlier to lead chants.

"Repeat after me," He said. "I am..."

"I am," yelled the excited crowd.

"Somebody."

"Somebody," they echoed.

"We need to make sure that our parents have the support that they need when they work at our jobs," Bolding said before a translator repeated it in Spanish. "The treatment that we've seen at the airport for many of our parents, our brothers, our sisters, our moms, our dads is not something that we can continue to say we want here in the state of Arizona... Every single person who works at the airport matters."

"I am," he chanted in true cheerleader fashion.

"I am," they answered fervently.

"Somebody."

"Somebody!'

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