Community Coalition calls out Hertz for unfair targeting of immigrant workers
Last November, when 156 mostly immigrant car shuttlers were heartlessly laid off by Hertz Car Rental at the San Francisco International Airport, they had little recourse. By the time they reached out to Local 856 for help to combat the company’s outsourcing of their work to a contractor, the 30-day window needed for union recognition to gain worksite protections had closed. And when they turned to the SFO Airport Commission’s “Worker Retention Policy”, which would have forced the contractor to retain employees for at least 90 days, they discovered the policy only covered “airfield security” employees, leaving out nearly 2,000 workers, including them.
“It was a devastating blow to learn we couldn’t use the Commission’s policy to force the company to treat these employees with respect,” said Rudy Gonzalez, Local 856 Vice President and Organizing Coordinator.
While most would have cut their losses and walked away, this group refused. Many had worked for the company for well over a decade and the callousness with which the multi-national corporation outsourced their work stung, hard. So they vowed to do two things: take back their dignity and make sure no other worker at the airport was ever treated this way again.
With the help of Teamsters 856 and the Chinese Progressive Association, the shuttlers organized rallies at the car rental center with political allies such as San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim, conducted a strike on their last day of work with Hertz, and marched on San Francisco City Hall to get their message out.
It worked – they received the attention of the media and community leaders. Shortly after the demonstrations, Airport Commission representatives reached out to Gonzalez via the San Mateo Labor Council wishing to work together to amend the current Worker Retention Policy to cover more airport employees.
According to Gonzalez, the Commission knew it was the right thing do. “The policy is in place to ensure that SFO has qualified employees who are familiar with the airport and its regulations to serve traveling public across SFO, so it’s only natural that it should cover everyone working at the airport.”
On February 7, the Commission unanimously voted to expand the policy to include all on-airport rental car operations, concession, food & beverage, retail, and passenger services effective immediately.
Now, any airport tenant that conducts a change in ownership or outsources work to a subcontractor must keep current employees for 90 days. New owners and subcontractors will also inherit the employees’ union contract, if there is one, and if not, the 90 days gives employees well over the 30-day window required for union recognition, should they choose to form a union.
Although former Hertz shuttler Ming Wah See won’t get to personally reap the benefits of the policy expansion, it’s an important win for him nonetheless.
“We went from receiving our notice, losing hope, meeting with Teamsters 856 and the Chinese Progressive Association, to going on strike,” said See. “Although we are a small group of workers, we made our stories heard and with the support of community and were able to make sure that this doesn’t happen to other workers at SFO.”
Gonzalez sees the workers’ persistence as noble. “Pushing to expand the policy was entirely selfless,” he said. “But it’s proof that when we stand together, make some noise, and work with our community allies, we really can effect lasting positive change.”