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Strike at Gate Gourmet Dusseldorf continues into the New Year

Posted to the IUF website 12-Jan-2006

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Gate Gourmet workers at Dusseldorf airport greeting visitors from Delta Airlines. The airline intends to start regular service from Dusseldorf to the US in April 2006.

The Gate Gourmet workers on strike at Düsseldorf airport continued their picket throughout the year-end holiday season supported by their union, the NGG, their families, friends and hosts of well-wishers, unionists and other activists who continue to visit the strike shelters bringing support and encouragement. On Christmas Eve, 24 December, an ecumenical religious service took place with the participation of high-ranking Protestant, Catholic and Muslim clergy. Following the service, the strikers had a day off while the NGG kept the picket going and a group of about 25 supporters who were gathered on the access road successfully blocked delivery vans driven by strike-breakers from reaching the runway. Five planes reportedly took off that afternoon without food on board.

The Gate Gourmet strikers' mess tent

New bargaining begins on 5 January

On 6 December, after 2 months of industrial action, persistent efforts to get Gate Gourmet back to the table and tough negotiations carried out with the assistance of the government mediation agency, a compromise settlement was reached between the union negotiating committee and Gate Gourmet. The following day, the company withdrew the agreement following consultations with the parent company, Texas Pacific Group. It then took 2 weeks and the intervention of the NGG leadership with Gate Gourmet European headquarters in Zurich (Switzerland) for the company to come back to the table. On 23 December, a meeting took place between union and company representatives - including a lawyer retained by Texas Pacific Group - to prepare the ground for new bargaining.

How did it come to this?

The airline catering company at the centre of the dispute previously belonged to the charter carrier LTU, which still remains its main customer out of Dusseldorf. LTU sold its inflight catering division to Gate Gourmet in September 2001, in the wake of a restructuring programme put in place and guaranteed financially by its then-parent company, the now-defunct Swissair. In the wake of the Swissair bankruptcy, the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia stepped in with loan guarantees to keep LTU afloat and Gate Gourmet was sold to the Texas Pacific Group (December 2002).

The catering workers who were previously employed by LTU saw their wages and working conditions worsen after Gate Gourmet took over. The pressure increased with the takeover by TPG and the arrival of management consultants with stopwatches. After 3 years of harassment and coercion, aggravated by the company's refusal to consider the union's demand for a wage increase, the workforce voted overwhelmingly to strike. As of 7 October 2005, 80 of Gate Gourmet's 120 workers at Dusseldorf airport are on strike. Click here for links to previous stories.

Scabs and Locusts

Gate Gourmet continues to operate at Dusseldorf airport with a minority of strike-breaking workers from the site supported by strike-breakers from a non-unionised Gate Gourmet kitchen near Frankfurt airport and from labour-hire agencies. The Gate Gourmet works council recently won a case against the company in labour court concerning their right to information on the transfer of workers from other sites, the hiring of agency workers and work schedules. The company must now provide the works council with all documentation.

The level of service provided by strike-breakers to Gate Gourmet - and by Gate Gourmet to LTU - is decidedly below standard. LTU claims to be in constant contact with Gate Gourmet and hopes to once again work with "an effective partner". However, NGG expects LTU to do more to ensure the future effectiveness of its catering partner. Through a leafleting action in front of travel agencies, the NGG is informing customers of the connection between LTU and "locusts", a term coined in Germany in 2005 for corporate-raiding, asset-stripping companies like the Texas Pacific Group. When it was in financial difficulties, LTU was kept afloat through loans backed by the government of North Rhine-Westphalia and therefore has a goodwill obligation to the community. The NGG is calling on LTU to use its position as Gate Gourmet's major customer to demand responsible business practices and fair treatment of its workers.

The NGG takes a swat at a TPG locust

What can you do?

The Texas Pacific Group has emerged from behind the scenes to take an active role in the negotiations in Dusseldorf. Write to TPG with copies to Gate Gourmet demanding that negotiations be brought to a positive conclusion.

Model letter

David Bonderman, Managing Partner, Texas Pacific Group
Fax: +1 817 871 4001

Dear Mr. Bonderman,

I am writing to express my concern over the situation at Gate Gourmet at Dusseldorf airport, where 80 workers have been on strike for fair wages since October 7, 2005.

I understand that, after having rejected a compromise settlement negotiated on December 6, your company is now taking an active role in negotiations, which were resumed on January 5.

In the interest of TPG's investor clients, one can only assume that you would be keen on ensuring the continued viability of Gate Gourmet. However, it would appear that rather than focussing on the economic turnaround of the company, TPG is haggling over the wages and working conditions of a business unit consisting of 120 workers who have already accepted considerable sacrifices in the interest of their company. Furthermore, the loss in sales occasioned by the strike, together with the added expense of hiring subcontracted workers and security staff has already far exceeded the cost of the workers' legitimate wage demand.

I call on you to ensure that the workers' legitimate demands are met and that negotiations in Dusseldorf are brought to a positive conclusion.

Yours sincerely,

copies to:
Dietmar May, Vice President, Gate Gourmet Northern Europe
Fax: +49 69 9695 0407

Paul Lilley, President, Gate Gourmet Europe
Fax: +41 1 810 91 75

Strike fund

The NGG has set up a strike to assist members in financial difficulty:

Bank: SEB Dusseldorf
Account holder: Gewerkschaft NGG
IBAN: DE83300101111650217300
(account number 165 021 73 00)
Please mark your contribution "Gate Gourmet Strike"

Solidarity messages go a long way in giving the striking workers the support they need to carry on the fight. Please send messages to the NGG at region.blnr@ngg.net with a copy to the IUF secretariat at iuf@iuf.org.

The IUF thanks you in advance for your solidarity and support.