Atlanta weighs airport concessions worker retention measure

5:52 p.m Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017 Travel
Jonathan Phillips
September 2, 2015 Atlanta - Kanitra Williams (left) uses a tethered knife at Fresh to Order inside the Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Wednesday, September 2, 2015. Restaurants inside the airport have challenges including limited space, tethered knives, mandatory knife inventory inspections and electric grills. JONATHAN PHILLIPS / SPECIAL

City of Atlanta officials are proposing a measure that would require new airport concessionaires to retain workers of previous firms.

Labor union UNITE HERE has pushed for worker retention ordinances in other cities, and Atlanta officials worked with the union on the ordinance being considered by the Atlanta City Council.

On Wednesday, the Atlanta City Council finance committee voted unanimously in favor of the ordinance, and the measure will next go to the full council Monday for approval.

If approved, the ordinance would establish an airport service contractor worker retention program. It would require companies that win new concessions contracts at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to retain workers of a former employer for a 90-day trial period, with certain limitations.

The workers must pass background checks and drug and alcohol testing, and the new measure does not apply to managers or executives. If the new concessionaire needs fewer employees, it would retain employees based on seniority.

“The idea here is we want to lessen the chaos that arises when there is a significant transition of concessions vendors at the airport,” said Melissa Mullinax, senior advisor to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. Of 6,000 concessions workers at the world’s busiest airport, about 1,400 are represented by the UNITE HERE union, she said.

The worker retention language is already written into recent soliciations for new concessionaires.

“When new vendors are selected there’s no reason that the workers who have passed all the security tests, who have expertise and strong customer service skills, should lose their jobs during that transition period,” Mullinax said.

The airport concessions office would enforce the new measure, she said.

Changeovers in concessions contracts would come after the award of contracts for airport shops in a massive revamp of retail at Hartsfield-Jackson, and after the award of contracts for new restaurants on Concourse E at the Atlanta airport. The airport shop contracts and Concourse E restaurant contracts have not yet gone to the Atlanta City Council for approval.