Almost 2,000 airport restaurant workers who were furloughed in March because of the coronavirus pandemic have been notified that they face permanent layoffs by mid-October.
In letters sent last week by HMSHost, 782 restaurant workers at Orlando International Airport — more than 90% of workers — were informed of the pending layoffs, the Orlando Sentinel reported. Another 1,119 airport restaurant workers in Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach and Miami are also slated for layoffs,
They haven’t been paid since mid-March, and in June their benefits were suspended.
HMSHost is one of the largest operators of airport concessions in the United States. The company said the “unfortunate reality is that it is going to take a significant period for our business to recover.”
Furloughed workers “will be converted to permanent layoffs on Oct. 15 if they have not been recalled by Oct. 15,” the company said.
In a filing with the state, the company said the pandemic has devastated the travel and restaurant industries, and “unfortunately, HMSHost sits at the crossroads of both.”
“Never in the history of aviation and the hospitality industry, have we experienced such catastrophic customer traffic declines,” the filing said.
Before the pandemic, Orlando’s airport handled 70,000 outbound passengers per day, the newspaper reported. That number reduced to just a couple of thousand in March and April, but has now rebounded to around 20,000 outbound passengers daily.
The layoff announcement comes after HMSHost workers demanded that the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, the board that oversees the publicly owned airport, make worker protections and rehiring policies a requirement for airport employers to receive waivers or deferrals of rent and fees, the Sentinel reported.
Workers asked Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, who both sit on the GOAA board, to require HMSHost to bring back employees in order of seniority once airport businesses reopen, the newspaper said.
“Why should you give millions of dollars to HMSHost to bail out this billionaire company while residents working hard in Orange County are not being respected and their jobs are not being respected?” said Angela McKinnon, an organizer with Unite Here, a hospitality union that’s in the process of organizing the airport’s HMSHost locations.
An airport attorney advised board members they can’t require a business to provide employee benefits beyond those required by state and federal law, according to the newspaper.
On Wednesday, the board approved a second $47.6 million rent relief package for concessionaires and rental car companies at the airport, on top of $2.5 million in rent relief HMSHost received in May.