Flight Attendants warn layoffs could end any hope of economic recovery
Photo courtesy of the Flight Attendants

WASHINGTON—Facing massive layoffs at the end of September, the nation’s Flight Attendants hit the U.S. Capitol on September 9 to demand solons save airline jobs, and the services the carriers provide.

Making the point that without planes flying, medicines, anti-viral supplies, food and other goods wouldn’t get to people who need them, members of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA held a 9 a.m. rally and briefing on coronavirus protection rules in the U.S. Capitol and its allied buildings. Then, complete with masks, they headed inside to lobby for the legislation.

“There is no weekend or vacation for the virus. Its catastrophic health and economic effects do not stop. Every day of inaction is more lives lost and a higher and higher cost of recovery. Real people are hurting right now and it is cruel to keep people in a constant state of uncertainty,” AFA-CWA President Sara Nelson said the week before after the latest big carrier, United, said it would can 15,000 Flight Attendants and thousands of other workers at the end of the month.

Whether lawmakers will listen is another matter. The Democratic-run House did, in the Cares Act, the first coronavirus-caused $2 trillion economic aid law, in March. That kept the airlines going, as they had to fly almost-empty planes due to the pandemic, but they got $32 billion in federal subsidies to do so.

Those subsidies, though, were contingent on the carriers keeping airline workers on the job, a provision AFA-CWA President Sara Nelson and House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., inserted in the legislation. But that Payroll Support Program (PSP) runs out at the end of September, and the carriers are already announcing mass layoffs.

There’s no PSP subsidy in the latest House-passed $3 trillion economic aid bill, the Heroes Act, and there’s none in the $500 billion economic aid bill Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., unveiled September 8. He plans a September 10 vote.

That big hole led AFA to the D.C. rally, and a joint letter to lawmakers from AFA and other aviation workers’ unions, including the Teamsters, the Machinists, the Air Line Pilots, the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents flight attendants at American Airlines, and the Transport Workers.

And Flight Attendants hit the streets with similar rallies in Seattle on September 8, September 9 at Federal Plaza in Chicago, Seaside Plaza in Orlando, Fla., and outside the Newark offices of New Jersey’s two Democratic senators and at GOP Sen. Robert Portman’s office in Toledo, Ohio and at the Charlotte, N.C., airport on September 10.

The events followed a bombardment of letters, phone calls, petitions and e-mails from Flight Attendants and other workers, starting in early June. Nelson and Capt. Joseph DePete, the ALPA president, sent the latest letter to lawmakers, and Trump regime Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin, on September 4.

“Extending the PSP ensures airline pilots, flight attendants, and other workers continue to support our airlines’ role in fueling our economy, assisting the military, and transporting goods and services. Equally important, adopting a clean extension of the PSP through March, 31, 2021, will prevent the widespread economic damage that follows mass furloughs and that results in a drain on federal and state resources,” the two, whose unions combined have 113,000 members, wrote.

McConnell in particular has turned a deaf ear. His latest relief measure, worth $500 billion total, calls for $300 weekly federal supplemental jobless checks to all qualifying unemployed workers, down from $600 weekly in the Cares Act. There’s no Payroll Support Program in it, either.

McConnell’s measure also spends the first third of its text exempting firms from lawsuits under every labor law on the books, including violating minimum wage, overtime, and job safety and health laws. It uses the corporate excuse that firms need protection from lawsuits by workers and customers who catch the coronavirus at the companies.

And to add insult to injury, while McConnell’s measure provides additional money for schools to cope with protections, and pay, needed to physically reopen despite the pandemic, his section 6001 says some of the funds can go to taxpayer-paid vouchers for parents of private school kids, a key right-wing cause.

Some of this, specifically the $600 checks, came up as the AFA and its allies lobbied lawmakers on September 9. AFA calculated 55 million people are already hurting, or will be, once those checks stopped.

“In August, 16 Senate Republicans joined Senate Democrats and the bipartisan House majority in support of a clean extension of the Payroll Support Program through March 31. But failure to act… keeps our jobs and millions more in danger,” the union said in announcing the rallies.

“It’s not enough for an overwhelming majority of Congress to support us, we need them to act! We need the Senate to get back to work to give us #ReliefNow.”

“This is a fight for our jobs and our industry, but it’s also much bigger. Another five million jobs are in danger if Congress fails to extend the enhanced unemployment benefits that provided an extra $600 per week and boosted consumer spending. More than five million public sector workers may join the unemployment lines without aid for state and local governments. And 600,000 postal workers are fighting to preserve their jobs and the vital service they provide.”

“These are real people. Millions are already teetering on the edge. One in three Americans is behind on housing payments, and 30-40 million are at risk of eviction. Millions are struggling to feed their families and pay their bills. There are five workers searching for every one open job. The last thing we need to do is add millions more workers to the unemployment lines and push the unemployed into deeper financial trouble.”

“Flight Attendants and our families are making life-altering decisions as we face the loss of income, healthcare, and stability while still confronting a raging pandemic while working on what could be our last flights. It is cruel to keep people in a state of deep worry and uncertainty. It’s got to stop with #ReliefNow from Congress. We need McConnell at the table with [House] Speaker Pelosi right now. Get it done,” Nelson concluded.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners. El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People's World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).