Food service company at OC airport paused paying rent but still furloughed workers, cut health insurance

"For the airport director to decide to bail out this company and not really give relief to the workers is not OK," the union rep said.
SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- Dozens of furloughed workers employed by a food service company at John Wayne Airport protested outside the Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, upset to hear their employer was getting rent deferral.

Bertha Saravia is a cancer survivor diagnosed with high blood pressure, asthma and Type 2 diabetes.

Saravia worried about how she would cover her medical bills after hearing from her employer she would no longer receive health insurance benefits.

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"I'm a cancer survivor for the last five years," Saravia said.

Saravia was among the employees furloughed by a concessionaire at John Wayne Airport, HMSHost. She has worked at the pantry for 12 years. Saravia was one of 260 workers the company informed on June 4 that her health and wellness benefits were cut.

Maria Hernandez is with the union representing those employees, Unite Here Local 11.

"We don't think that's fair because these workers are the backbone of John Wayne Airport. They are the ones that serve you the food, cook you your meals, serve you your beer," Hernandez said.

Dozens represented by Unite Here Local 11 protested Tuesday, upset their employer was getting rent deferral from the airport.

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According to the airport's public affairs manager, repayment from all tenants begins October 1, and deferred amounts were to be paid in full by the end of June 2021.

Demonstrators asked the airport director in a letter to reverse the rent deferral.

"In the middle of a pandemic, for the government, for the airport director to decide to bail out this company and not really give relief to the workers is not OK," Hernandez said.

On its website, HMSHost explained the decisions were because of a drop in business during the COVID-19 pandemic. A company spokesperson provided Eyewitness News with the following statement:

Due to the slow recovery and challenging business climate, HMSHost made the difficult decision to lay off a significant portion of our associates across the company, and John Wayne Airport is no exception. We continue to have discussions with Unite Here Local 11 regarding the recall process and restoration of health care coverage for laid off associates who are recalled to work after October 15. We are deeply grateful to all of our associates for their commitment and care for our guests and one another to make HMSHost a best-in-class company.

Regardless of what decisions are made, Saravia still needs her kidneys evaluated twice a year because of her cancer treatment. She still needs her insulin three times a day and unemployment may not be enough.

"When that insulin is finished, I don't know what I'm doing," Saravia said.

These employees expected to hear by Oct. 15, whether their layoffs will be permanent.

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