Victoria Stahl fought to improve wages at Sky Harbor

Building a labor movement in Phoenix is ​​no easy task. Over the past year, however, the labor movement in Phoenix has had significant victories.

Last fall, airport workers at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport went on a 10-day strike, winning a new contract after years of bargaining. In June, a former budtender at the Curaleaf dispensary in Gilbert got her job back after arguing in court that the cannabis giant had fired her for organising. And employees at Starbucks locations in the valley joined unions, becoming one of the coffeehouse chain’s first unions in the country.

To commemorate Labor Day, Phoenix New Times spoke with four union leaders and rank-and-file workers – from teachers to clinic workers – about the victories and struggles of the past year and the labor movement in Arizona.

Victoria Stahl was one of the Sky Harbor dealership workers who went on strike in November 2021. After 10 days, Stahl and her co-workers came back to the bargaining table and won big.

At sunrise on November 22, 2021, days before Thanksgiving, Sky Harbor workers went on strike. They greeted the early morning crowd by beating drums and megaphones. One of the workers on the picket line was Victoria Stahl, a 25-year-old barista at a Starbucks inside the airport.

Although Sky Harbor falls under the jurisdiction of the City of Phoenix, the airport contracts with HMS Host to operate many of its restaurants, cafes, and fast food outlets. Last year, staff shortages ravaged the business. Some HMS Host employees have been forced to work mandatory 12-hour shifts. “I don’t have time to be a person,” said HMS host Matthew Vargas. new times in September 2021.

Instead of closing stores, employees claimed at the time, the company kept as many stores open as possible, stretching its workforce.

Stahl joined HMS Host in January 2021. She started at $12.95 per hour. “Very, very quickly I realized that something was wrong and something had to be done,” she said. New times.

Stahl was frustrated with the company’s lack of care for its employees. Workers were constantly rotated through different stores without any additional pay. A broken espresso machine that sprayed hot steam on employees was not repaired. (When new times When asked about these working conditions in September 2021, HMS Host said it was “proud to have opened almost all of our restaurants and brought many of our valued staff back to work.”)

Stahl, 25, was born and raised in Maryvale. “I’m a very, very proud West Side girl,” she said. Prior to joining HMS Host, she had done political work, registering voters and helping with the campaign of Phoenix City Councilwoman Betty Guardado.

When she started at Sky Harbor, Stahl learned that the workers’ union of HMS Host – Unite Here! Local 11 — had been in contract negotiations for over three years. “We hadn’t had a raise since the start of the pandemic. People had been fired. People had lost their health insurance,” Stahl said.

Stahl joined the union’s bargaining committee. Unite here! was pushing for the usual demands of a contract: higher wages and cheaper health insurance. But the HMS Host, even as travel began to return to pre-pandemic levels, was filibustering.

The situation escalated in November 2021. Stahl remembers the energy of the picket line on the first day of the walkout. The strike lasted 10 days, making headlines across Arizona and fueling a subsequent strike by workers at HMS Host in Los Angeles.

“We knew what we stood for was deserved four years ago and it was four years too late,” Stahl said. It is, she added, “what kept the fire going”.

The strike continued day and night outside the airport over the busy Thanksgiving weekend. Stahl spent her days walking, singing, and talking to the media.

When workers finally returned to the bargaining table, things were “tense,” Stahl recalls. But in the end, they got a win. “[HMS Host managers] magically were able to access their back pocket and find the money for the things we asked for,” Stahl said. The new contract was ratified a few weeks later.

Now baristas with HMS Host start at $15.50 per hour. The cost of health insurance has gone down. The union obtained a legal fund for its workers.

Stahl is currently on leave from her HMS Host job and working as an organizer with Unite Here! She always keeps a close eye on working conditions at Sky Harbor.

“It’s not perfect, by any means,” Stahl said. “We are still facing problems. There are still things that come up. But more people have found their voice. The togetherness she had seen from the city, she said, taught her that Phoenix was, at its heart, a “union city.”

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