About the MEC Government Affairs Committee
Among AFA-CWA's most important responsibilities is the advancement of issues important to Flight Attendants and our industry on Capitol Hill. The United Master Executive Council has a Government Affairs Committee Chair and Local Council Committees made up of volunteer activists. These dedicated individuals regularly travel to Washington, D.C., to walk the halls of Congress and lobby on the issues that affect Flight Attendants. Because we're the ones who work on the aircraft everyday, we're the ones who know what issues matter most. Together with the constant support of AFA's professional staff, we are our own best advocates.
The Government Affairs Committee members keep Flight Attendants informed of legislative actions that could affect our working conditions, our job security and our safety, health and security. These volunteers also conduct voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, promote AFA's Political Action Committee, FlightPAC, and actively participate in campaigns for AFA endorsed candidates. AFA encourages its members to be politically active on the local, state and federal levels – and support those members of Congress who consistently support Flight Attendants.
Many government affairs committee members are involved in their local labor communities and serve as delegates to Central Labor Councils or as Executive Board members on the state level of the AFL-CIO. These delegates provide AFA greater access to AFL-CIO organizations and ensure that our issues and concerns get the full support of the local labor movement.
AFA-CWA is known on Capitol Hill as the world's largest Flight Attendant Union and the only one that represents a cross-section of our entire profession.
At times, the UAL AFA Government Affairs Committee will work collaboratively with United Airlines on issues which impact our company's financial interests or competitive standing. The recently enacted pension funding legislation was a significant victory which would not have been possible without the hard work of the United AFA Government Affairs Committee volunteers, in gaining Congressional support of this issue. This legislation addresses United Airlines' under-funded pension liability by providing airlines with a temporary reduction of penalty payments.
When the War with Iraq threatened an already devastated airline industry, the United AFA Government Affairs Committee, along with MEC members and Flight Attendant activists, spent two weeks on Capitol Hill lobbying for United Airlines to be reimbursed for security costs, a repeal of the passenger security tax and security fees, an extension of the Aviation Insurance Program, and extended unemployment benefits for aviation workers harmed by the ripple affect of September 11. Our presence in Washington dwarfed that of United's Grassroots Network. Our efforts were instrumental in achieving substantial relief for the airline industry, which provided United the necessary cash to meet debtor-in-possession payments that would have otherwise been demanded through an additional employee pay cut on an emergency basis through the bankruptcy court. Not only were we able to ensure our company could continue to operate without further employee sacrifices, we were also successful in achieving the first six-month extension of unemployment benefits for aviation workers.
The relationships that the United AFA Government Affairs Committee members have built with many Congressional offices have enabled us to seek Congressional support in many different ways. When United announced their intention to seek changes to retiree medical benefits the United MEC and Government Affairs Committee persuaded over 110 House offices and 20 Senate offices to contact United Airlines about this unjust proposal.
AFA-CWA is known on Capitol Hill as the world's largest Flight Attendant Union and the only one that represents a cross-section of our entire profession. For decades, members of Congress and the federal government have not only respected our knowledge of the industry, but have turned to us in times of crisis – as Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta did after September 11 when he appointed AFA International President Pat Friend to the DOT Rapid Response Team for Aircraft Security.
When legislation that affects Flight Attendants is being proposed, AFA is the first and in most cases, the only Union that is contacted because of our status as the largest representative of Flight Attendants. Our steadfast work on behalf of Flight Attendants and aviation safety has increased our visibility for a well respected presence on Capitol Hill. Our greatest successes have been achieved when the United AFA Government Affairs Committee join the Government Affairs representatives from the other AFA carriers and speak with one voice.
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In 2000, after months of intensive lobbying efforts, AFA won a number of major legislative victories. AFA successfully urged Congress to pass whistleblower protections for Flight Attendants, so we are now able to report safety violations without fear of reprisal or job loss. We also achieved a dramatic increase in penalties for crewmember assault, which before September 11 was a rapidly growing problem. Congress agreed to increase the federal penalty for assaulting a Flight Attendant from $1,100 (the same penalty as smoking in the lavatory) to $25,000.
Decades after AFA leadership set forth their objectives in the AFA Constitution and Bylaws and after a nearly yearlong battle on Capitol Hill, Congress passed Flight Attendant certification legislation on November 21, 2003. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is now required to certify Flight Attendants, who for years were the only aviation workgroup not certified upon completion of our FAA training. The passage of this very important legislation gives Flight Attendants the respect and recognition that we have long deserved, as well as a defined platform to improve standards for our jobs across the industry.
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Current Issues and Future Goals
Since September 11, comprehensive, industry-wide security training for Flight Attendants has become a high-profile, vital issue, and AFA has been leading the charge on Capitol Hill. We're up against powerful adversaries like Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who unceremoniously axed Flight Attendant security training from the FAA Reauthorization bill at the behest of Continental Airlines – which is conveniently based in his hometown. As the first responders in the sky and the only aviation workgroup guaranteed to be in the cabin on every commercial flight, we will continue to fight for security training for all Flight Attendants.
Flight Attendants lack basic workplace safety and health protections that are afforded all other workers in this country. Implementing OSHA protections would help improve cabin air, injuries from malfunctioning beverage carts, improved sanitation and a reduction of across-the-board workplace injuries. AFA continues to pressure the White House and Congress to provide Flight Attendants the same workplace protections that nearly every other worker in this country enjoys.
Another current issue being supported by some AFA adversaries in Congress is cabotage – allowing foreign airlines to serve within our domestic market or take over U.S. domestic routes. AFA is working hard to stop this dangerous plan, which would result in the loss of U.S. Flight Attendant jobs to foreign crews, and allow for potential security problems caused by poor maintenance of aircraft and unregulated screening of cargo and passengers. Within recent weeks, it has also been reported that the Defense Department is seeking to open up military transport contracts to foreign carriers. This would “outsource” Flight Attendant jobs for CRAF and MAC flying to non-US carriers. AFA has taken the lead in fighting these efforts and remains vigilant to make sure such proposals are never allowed.
A number of members of Congress have proposed legislation that would take away the right of Flight Attendants and other aviation workers to bargain collectively. The legislation would prevent good faith, collective bargaining and would also take away our right to strike. In solidarity with our AFL-CIO affiliates, AFA was successful in convincing proponents of this legislation to squelch it. This victory served as an example of how our collective strength and influence prevented the destruction of our ability to negotiate fair and decent contracts and stand up to corporate greed. AFA must remain vigilant to make sure this legislative proposal – and other legislation harmful to Flight Attendants – does not see the light of day. Efforts such as these that threaten our basic rights will only be defeated as we stand united, Flight Attendant with Flight Attendant, carrier with carrier, worker with worker in one resounding voice speaking to the law makers of our nation.
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