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October 6, 2023

Retail concessions workers strike at Ontario International Airport

Three years after their contract expired, workers asked for a living wage of $21 per hour, rising to $25 by 2025. Hudson counter-offered $21 by 2027.

Ezra Levinson
UNITE HERE! rep Arun Ramakrishna speaks to Ontario Hudson workers prior to the strike on Sept. 22, 2023. Photo by Samson Zhang

After a series of intermittent work stoppages and pickets outside their terminals, a group of retail workers at Ontario International Airport are now officially striking indefinitely as they struggle for a better contract.

Chants from striking retail workers at Ontario National Airport

The workers are employed by Dufry Hudson Group, a multinational travel retail and newsstand corporation, and unionized with UNITE HERE! Local 11. According to the union, their last contract with Hudson expired three years ago, and negotiations for a new one have been unproductive. Their organizing has focused on securing a new contract with higher wages and a retirement pension.

Ahead of the ongoing strike, which was declared on September 27, a group of roughly 10 Hudson workers picketed outside Terminal 4 in the afternoon on Friday, September 22. They were joined by a delegation of around 20 students from the Claremont Colleges, organized by the Claremont Student Worker Association. Members of other unions were also present in support.

Claremont students joined Hudson Ontario workers on the picket line at Terminal 4 on Sept. 22, 2023. Photo by Samson Zhang.

Workers seek a living wage and retirement support

Most of the Hudson workers at Ontario International are making minimum wage, including several who have been in their current positions for decades. Some say they are financially unable to retire despite being of retirement age, including Lidia Esparza, who is 75 years old and caring for a daughter with Stage 4 cancer.

Leonida Austria, who has been a cashier for Dufry Hudson Group in Ontario for 20 years, told Undercurrents that she struggles to support her three children. Two are now in college.

“[I work] here [at Ontario International] from four o’clock in the morning until one o’clock, and then I would go to my other job [at Circle K] from two o’clock to ten-thirty at night.”

Leonida Austria, longtime cashier at Dufry Hudson Group

For 18 years, she worked two full-time jobs: “here [at Ontario International] from four o’clock in the morning until one o’clock, and then I would go to my other job [at Circle K] from two o’clock to ten-thirty at night.”

 She said that standing for sixteen hours a day eventually caused a knee injury, and she had to leave her second job, which led to further financial struggles. “This is not just about me,” Austria said. “There’s other people here that have the same situation. We really have to fight for this.”

“What we’re asking is not a hundred dollars per hour, like a doctor is paid. This is just, like, the decent pay to survive.”

The workers are demanding a new contract, higher wages, a retirement pension, and respect from their employer. “What we’re asking is not a hundred dollars per hour, like a doctor is paid,” Austria said. “This is just, like, the decent pay to survive.”

She shared that workers were organizing for wages of $21 per hour, rising to $25 by 2025. “The company is making millions, millions, you know? I don’t know why it’s so hard for them to just listen to what we need.”

Under Hudson’s most recent counter-offer, workers would not reach wages of $21 per hour – often cited as the current “living wage” for a working adult with no children in Los Angeles County – until at least 2026, according to UNITE HERE! Local 11 union representative Arun Ramakrishna PZ ’22.

For the many Hudson workers who do have children and families, the cost of living is substantially higher. Inflation, as well as rising rent and gasoline prices, mean that it is almost constantly going up.

According to Local 11, Dufry Hudson Group has responded to the strike organizing with illegal surveillance of workers and threats of retaliation. Intermittent strikes will continue indefinitely until a contract agreement is reached, Ramakrishna said.

Hot Labor Summer

The Hudson workers’ organizing comes amid a wave of other strike actions, including a wave of strikes at airports over the past year and a currently escalating strike by the United Auto Workers. UNITE HERE! Local 11 is also on strike at hotels across Los Angeles and Orange County. Undercurrents previously reported on their successful fights for better contracts at Pitzer College and Pomona College as well as University of La Verne and Whittier College.

Speakers at the September 22 picket noted this context. “We have unions all over the state,” said Gracie Torres, a member of SEIU 721 in Redlands. “SEIU 1000 has fought for their contract this summer, my local is at the bargaining table, we have the United Auto Workers striking this weekend – it’s ridiculous that people are not getting the message.”

Torres told the workers that they are the people who keep Ontario International Airport running, and criticized Dufry Hudson Group for taking advantage of them. “As we work through this Hot Labor Summer, it’s not gonna end there,” she said. “We’re gonna go to the fall, we’re gonna go to the winter, we’re gonna go to the spring.”

“We wouldn’t be able to come to school here without people who work at the Ontario airport…We need to take better care of the people who take care of us.”

Leah Glasser PZ’26

Students who attended with the CSWA delegation expressed their desire to support workers’ organizing efforts. “I think that it’s important for us to not only show up for people in the 5C community, but elsewhere too, because they support us,” said Leah Glasser PZ ‘26. “We wouldn’t be able to come to school here without people who work at the Ontario airport. At least I wouldn’t – I use that airport every time I come here. We need to take better care of the people who take care of us.”

“It’s a long process,” noted Luna Romero PZ ‘26, “but they’re gonna win in the end and get better pay, because they deserve that. I came out today to show solidarity, to have their backs. You know, to show that they’re not alone.” 

Glasser agreed. “I’m glad that a good amount of people from the 5Cs showed up. I hope that support will continue throughout the year.”

“Pretty much everything we enjoy every day is made by labor,” said Beau Zinman PZ ‘24. “I believe that the interests of all workers are intertwined, and as I’m going to be a worker when I graduate, that means their fight is my fight in the long run.”

Ezra Levinson PZ ‘27 (any pronouns) is a student at Pitzer College. Ezra covers organizing in and around the Claremont Colleges, with a particular interest in efforts to connect the colleges with the broader local and global community. Their current focuses include Palestinian and Jewish organizing as well as labor struggles.

Striking workers take part in the Unity Clap, a tradition among labor organizing, which has its roots in the United Farmworker’s Movement

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Thanks for reading Undercurrents

Undercurrents reports on labor, Palestine liberation, prison abolition and other community organizing at and around the Claremont Colleges.

Issue 1 / Spring 2023

Setting the Standard

How Pomona workers won a historic $25 minimum wage; a new union in Claremont; Tony Hoang on organizing

Read issue 1