United Airlines AFA MEC Website

Association of Flight Attendants-CWA United Master Executive Council

United MEC Government Affairs Committee Update

Date: October 19, 2011
Type: Report

TSA AUTHORIZATION BILL

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Authorization Act of 2011, H.R. 3011, was introduced by Congressman Mike Rodgers (R-AL), the Chair of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security on September 22, 2011. This is a bill that authorizes funding for the TSA, improves general and commercial aviation security and strengthens security training for the transportation workforce.

The Transportation Security Subcommittee held a hearing on September 14 prior to the introduction of the bill. At this hearing, Ranking Member Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) called for an expedited path for Flight Attendant participation into the Known Crew Member (KCM) Program. Formerly known as “CrewPASS,” the Known Crew Member Program is a security screening program that enables TSA security personnel to positively verify the identity and employment status of flight crew members.

The recommendations for this program to grant expedited access to all crewmembers, flight deck and cabin crew, at security checkpoints were included in the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007. The trial program, which is a joint test with the Air Transportation Association (ATA), the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and the TSA was initially launched at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and Miami International Airport for airline pilots in August of 2011. Flight Attendants are still not part of the KCM test program.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee also introduced an amendment calling for comprehensive mandatory security training for Flight Attendants. The amendment specifically called for “providing advanced self-defense training of at least five hours every two years for all cabin crewmembers of an aircraft.”

During the subcommittee hearing, Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Danny Davis (D-IL), Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Cedric Richmond (D-LA) all spoke out passionately in favor of comprehensive mandatory security training for Flight Attendants. Freshmen Congressman Joe Walsh (R-IL) spoke out strongly against Flight Attendant security training and went as far as to say that Flight Attendants were essentially irrelevant and that passengers were the last line of defense onboard the airplane. We should all be outraged at the comments made by Congressman Walsh. Walsh, who some of you may remember in 2010 narrowly beat Melissa Bean by less than 300 votes, is facing a tough re-election campaign in his district.

While both of Congresswoman Jackson Lee’s amendments failed on a party line vote in the Transportation Security Subcommittee mark up (the four Democrats voting for and the six Republicans voting against the two amendments), we will continue to work for their inclusion as the TSA authorization bill moves through the legislative process.  

FLIGHT ATTENDANT FATIGUE

Congresswoman Mazie Hirono (D-HI) will soon be introducing legislation to address the issue of Flight Attendant fatigue. The purpose of this legislation is to ensure the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) moves forward with the recommendations of the Flight Attendant fatigue study by establishing an Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC). According to the draft language in the legislation, an ARC comprised of aviation safety subject matter experts, aviation labor representatives and aviation industry stakeholders will consider existing research, including the Civil Aviation Medical Institute (CAMI) study, and develop and submit recommendations and potential regulatory revisions to minimize Flight Attendant fatigue.

In 2004, AFA-CWA began working with the House Appropriations Committee to secure money for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to conduct research concerning fatigue among U.S. Flight Attendants. A Congressional appropriation for $200,000 was included in the FY 2005 Omnibus bill for the FAA to begin that research. When the researchers were unable to complete a thorough and comprehensive study, due to short internal FAA deadlines, it became clear that additional research was needed. In 2007, we were instrumental in securing an additional $1 million for CAMI researchers to complete their Flight Attendant fatigue studies. We have long been advocating for the FAA to move forward with the recommendations of the CAMI study and this bill would address that issue.

FAA REAUTHORIZATION BILL

The 22nd temporary reauthorization for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) narrowly avoided a second partial shutdown of the agency. With less than 24 hours left before the September 16 funding deadline expired, the House and the Senate agreed on a “clean” funding extension. Our relentless pressure on key members of Congress, including House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair John Mica (R-FL) helped avert a second shutdown of the FAA.

In late July the toxic political climate in the United States Congress spilled over into the 21st funding extension for the FAA. The House and Senate were spilt on party lines on a controversial provision included by Congressman Mica. Neither side was willing to give ground. As a result, congressional authority to collect government taxes on tickets lapsed and the FAA’s funding was discontinued.

During the two week partial shutdown of the FAA, 4000 FAA workers and almost 75,000 construction workers were temporarily furloughed, hundreds of airport improvement projects were put on hold and the government lost $400 million dollars in federal taxes normally paid into the Airport and Airways Trust Fund. A compromise agreement was eventually reached that saw cuts to the Essential Air Services program.

The 22nd extension of funding was only slightly less political. Congressman Mica floated a plan to cut the FAA’s funding by 5% but his idea was quickly squashed and a “clean” funding extension was passed which also included a six month extension of highway and transit programs.

The FAA now has Congressional funding authority through the end of January 2012, four months in which the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate have to put aside their differences and finally agree on a long-term bill. The FAA has been living on temporary life support since its long term funding expired in 2007. AFA-CWA joined 13 other Unions in a letter urging Congress to complete a multi-year comprehensive FAA bill that does not include draconian changes to Union election rules for aviation and rail employees.

Both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate FAA reauthorization bills passed in this session of Congress have major differences that will need to be reconciled in a Conference Committee. The Senate bill (the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act, S. 223) includes quite a few provisions advanced by AFA-CWA that are beneficial to Flight Attendants including:

  • An English language proficiency standard (Section 508);
  • A provision clarifying a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on certain OSHA protections for Flight Attendants (Section 509);
  • A provision for a study of air quality in the aircraft cabin (Section 564); and
  • Human Intervention Management Study (HIMS) program for cabin crews (although funds for this program have already been appropriated, the program needs to be authorized) (Section 702).

The House version of the bill (the FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2011, H.R. 658) includes language for all flights that have Flight Attendants onboard to be “no smoking”, closing a loophole that allowed smoking on charter flights. The bill also includes a notification for pesticide application.

The most egregious provision in the House FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2011 is the Republican written language that overturns a National Mediation Board (NMB) rule that provides for fair and democratic union representation elections. The NMB as well as their policies, which we rely a great deal on in our Negotiations, should have our full support in every possible way as this ruling was a major victory for workers. Ensuring this language is not included in the final bill is a legislative priority for us.

Another legislative priority for AFA-CWA is that the provision clarifying the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the FAA and the Occupational Safety Health Association (OSHA) on certain OSHA-like protections for Flight Attendants remains in the final version of a long term FAA bill. In the Senate version of this bill, this provision exists, however in the House version it does not. In December of 2000, the FAA and OSHA Aviation Safety and Health Team drafted a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and made recommendations to concentrate on the following seven areas in an effort to increase the safety and health standards for flight crew members:

  • Standards and regulations on recordkeeping
  • Bloodborne pathogens
  • Noise standards
  • Sanitation standards
  • Hazard communication
  • Anti-discrimination
  • Access to employee exposure/medical records

Unfortunately, since the drafting of the MOU in 2000 and a few meetings between OSHA and the FAA, the FAA continues to have sole jurisdiction over the Flight Attendant workplace. Virtually nothing has been done to address these safety and health matters.

Again, the two vastly different versions of the bill will need to be worked out in Conference Committee. The Senate has appointed their Conference Committee members; however the work on this critical legislation will not begin until the House Republican Leadership appoints their Conference Committee members as well.

NATIONWIDE ATTACK ON WORKER’S RIGHTS

What has been happening in Washington and State Capitols around the country should be a wakeup call for all of us. Anti-worker, anti-Union right wing conservatives are blaming decent wages and hard fought benefits as the fiscal problems for most of our communities. The House of Representatives with its new Tea Party backed corporate controlled Republican majority has seen bill after bill introduced that would weaken the economy and America’s middle class.

Already in the first session of the 112th Congress anti-worker Republicans have worked on legislation to:

  • Gut workers’ rights to organize
  • Roll back workers’ rights
  • Cut job training and employment assistance
  • Make significant changes to Medicare
  • Undermine American’s retirement security
  • Eliminate collective bargaining rights for public workers
  • Establish national Right-To-Work (for less) laws
  • Re-write the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to give additional protections to businesses that relocate to right-to work states
  • Outlaw Prevailing Wage Laws such as the repeal of Davis-Bacon
  • Eliminate federal programs protecting workers safety and health on the job
  • Bar any rule allowing electronic voting in National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Union representation elections

Another anti-worker attack that happened right here in our back yard in the “blue” state of Illinois under the leadership of a democratic Governor and democrat-controlled State Assembly this year was the recent attempt to dismantle the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act and decimate the benefits our Members rely on. Fortunately, due to a quickly coordinated mobilization effort, we were able to minimize the damage and helped to defeat a Republican proposal in April and to pass a bill far better for injured workers. Granted, the bill is not ideal and does reduce some benefits for injured workers and cuts payments to physicians and hospitals, but the end result was far better than what we could have ended up with such as a bill the Illinois State Legislature came up with to abolish the Workers’ Compensation system all together.

Make no mistake. This is not about budgets. This is all a coordinated effort to attack the middle class and an unfortunate byproduct of these assaults on working people is that they actually jeopardize the environment our negotiations take place in. Our own Contract negotiations at United are not only influenced by specific circumstances at our airline and by the state of the industry, but also by the general environment for workers across the country. As our United AFA Negotiations Committee has repeatedly stated, our negotiations certainly do not happen in a vacuum.

One of the key players in pushing forward this anti-worker corporate agenda is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group composed of mainly Republican state lawmakers and corporate executives. Founded in 1973 by Paul Weyrich, who co-founded ultra-conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the Moral Majority, ALEC is a very secretive organization that “ghost writes” model legislation so big corporations and trade associations can advance their legislative agendas in State Capitols across the country.

ALEC was instrumental in drafting corporate-friendly legislation such as repealing minimum wage laws, right-to-work laws, paycheck protection, curtailing union political activity and privatizing public pensions. The “ALEC WATCH” group investigated ALEC’s 1999 publications, tax returns and news articles and showed that ALEC’s major benefactors included United Airlines and the Air Transport Association. We were not able to verify who their current members are since only ALEC members can now access their membership information.

It is important for all of us to pay attention to what is happening (or not happening) in Washington and in State Capitols around the country. We cannot idly stand by and hope that others will take a stand to help stop these attacks.

“WE ARE ONE” OHIO

An issue on the ballot in Ohio this November is the repeal of a bill passed by the Ohio state legislature that eliminates the collective bargaining rights of more than 350,000 public employees. Election Day is November 8, 2011 but Early Voting is already underway and runs through November 7.

VOTER RIGHTS

On the heels of a Republican sweep of State Legislatures in 2010, we have seen a flurry of new Voter Identification laws meant to suppress the democratic vote. These new laws require photo identification to vote, reduce the early voting period and impose new restrictions on voter registrations across the nation. These laws have been engineered to make it harder for minority, student, disabled and elderly (many who fit these criteria being Democrats) voters to cast a ballot.

In the beginning of 2011 only Georgia and Indiana had strict photo identification laws. Kansas and Wisconsin joined Georgia and Indiana by passing strict photo identification laws this year requiring voters to show a government issued photo identification prior to voting. Wisconsin’ law went so far as to require the identification to show the address that matches their voting precinct, making it harder for students to vote. Kansas’ new law requires a state issued photo identification and along with states such as Alabama and Tennessee voters must now provide proof of citizenship before registering to vote.

South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas amended their non-photo identification laws to make them strict photo identification laws. The Department of Justice must approve the changes in Texas and South Carolina to ensure they do not violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Written in the Civil Rights era to fight racial discrimination at the polls, Section 5 of the Act requires some states with a history of racial discrimination to clear election law changes with the federal government.

The state of Maine voted this year to stop allowing the process of registering to vote on Election Day. In addition, Florida eliminated Early Voting on the Sunday before Election Day and passed a new law imposing severe restrictions on Voter Registration drives. Even in Rhode Island, a state controlled by a Democratic State Legislature and an Independent Governor, a new voter identification law was passed.

One state that has drawn quite a bit of attention recently with its newly passed voter identification laws is the state of Ohio. House Bill (HB) 194 was passed in June of this year. This bill drastically cuts the timeframe for Early Voting from 35 to 16 days, prevents counties from mailing absentee ballot applications to residents and eliminates
the requirement for poll workers to help voters find their precinct.

In a remarkable display of grassroots activity at its finest, an effort to overturn HB 194 was launched with petitioners seeking a referendum by gathering 318,460 signatures in less than six weeks to get the measure to overturn HB 194 on the ballot for the 2012 elections. The signatures will now have to be verified to ensure the threshold (231,154 eligible signatures) has been met to put the referendum on the 2012 ballot. The threshold is based on 6% of the total vote cast for governor in the 2010 election.

Clearly voting law changes such as limiting early voting, requiring state/government issued identification and restricting voter registration drives will have a negative impact on the elderly, minorities, students, disabled, those who are not native English speakers and yes, even Flight Attendants. According to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School as many as 11% of the voting population or 21 million don’t have access to a government issued identification card.

In addition, the more restrictive Early Voting laws will have a direct negative effect on our community of Flight Attendants since many of us rely on the ability to vote early or absentee due to our unconventional schedules and frequent traveling. These types of laws will have even more of an impact on our U.S. citizens who are based or reside overseas. In the coming 2012 elections we will all have to be more diligent than ever to ensure we are able to exercise our constitutional right to vote and are not a casualty of these new convoluted and restrictive Voter Identification laws sweeping the nation.

REPUBLICAN FRIENDS

It is virtually impossible to pass any legislation without bipartisan support. The AFA-CWA Government Affairs Committee has worked diligently to build relationships on both sides of the aisle in an effort to pass legislation vital to the safety, health and security and quality of life of Flight Attendants. In addition, by forging relationships with lawmakers across party lines, working to broaden their understanding of our issues, we not only gain support for Flight Attendants, we gain support for all of organized labor and for all working people.

Let us not forget the sixteen brave Republican Representatives who recently defied their party leadership to vote with all the Democrats to strip the onerous NMB language from the House version of the FAA bill. Not all Republicans share the anti-union sentiment that is prevalent in many parts of the country today. Some are great friends of ours and should be recognized for having the courage to stand up to their party leadership in the interest of doing the right thing for the middle class.

ELECTIONS 2012

With the 2012 Elections right around the corner, it is time again to focus on educating our Members regarding the importance of electing candidates that support Flight Attendant issues and ensuring each and every one of us are not only registered to vote but actually take the time to vote. With the general lack of confidence and discontent many Americans are experiencing with our Congressional leaders and the damage that was done in the 2010 Midterm Elections, you can rest assured that we have our work cut out for us with regard to the 2012 Elections. All 435 Representatives in the House of Representatives are up for re-election. It is critical that we take back the House in the 2012 elections and work to elect candidates that support working families and the middle class rather than the ones that subscribe to the radical and conservative agenda of the Tea Party, Wall Street or the infamous Koch brothers.

With 1/3 of or 33 U.S. Senate seats up for grabs in this election cycle, it will be critical to maintain and ideally gain some seats as well since the only barrier preventing a complete dismantling of workers’ rights is the Democratic controlled Senate. Republicans only need a net gain of four seats to win control of the Senate in the next Congress. The following Senators/Senate seats are up for election in 2012:

Jon Kyle (R-AZ) - Retiring
Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
Joe Lieberman (I-CT) - Retiring
Tom Carper (D-DE)
Bill Nelson (D-FL)
Daniel Akaka (D-HI) - Retiring
Richard Lugar (R-IN)
Olympia Snowe (R-ME)
Ben Cardin (D-MD)
Scott Brown (R-MA)
Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Dean Heller (R-NV)
Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) – Retiring
Kent Conrad (D-ND) – Retiring
Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) – Retiring
Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
Herb Kohl (D-WI) Retiring
Roger Wicker R-MS)
Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
Jon Tester (D-MT)
Ben Nelson (D-NE)
Bob Menendez (D-NJ)
Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Bob Casey, Jr. (D-PA)
Bob Corker (R-TN)
Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
Jim Webb (D-VA) – Retiring
Joe Manchin (D-WV)
John Barrasso (R-WY)

Most importantly, since this is a Presidential Election year, the stakes are even higher. Let us not forget why it is so important to elect a President that supports our issues. Whomever is in the White House has the ability to appoint all of the Department heads that we rely on such as the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Department of Labor (DOL), the Transportation Security Administrator, the Supreme Court Justices and most importantly the members of the National Mediation Board (NMB). Each one of these critical appointments has a direct effect on the policies in our workplace and subsequently our quality of life.

The point here is that elections have consequences. We are all going to have to find a way to contribute something meaningful to this election year because we will not be successful in ensuring the election of candidates who champion and support our issues unless all hands are on deck!

FLIGHTPAC

FlightPAC is comprised of voluntary contributions made by AFA-CWA Members to help to elect candidates for federal office who support our issues. Those candidates must be committed to helping to improve our safety, health and security in the workplace, our job security our basic rights as Union Members and virtually any other issues that affect the Flight Attendant profession. Having a strong FlightPAC fund requires a consistent focus on fundraising (by recruiting new volunteers to contribute) and this requires education on our part so our Members understand why it is important to have a high level of participation.

Of importance to note is that FlightPAC is also non partisan. In other words, we contribute to candidates for federal office on both sides of the aisle. Our only criteria is that they support the issues that affect Flight Attendants. Often the recipients of FlightPAC contributions sit on Committees that are instrumental in shaping legislation that affect our profession, such as the Transportation and Infrastructure, the Education and Workforce and the Homeland Security Committee

One element to having a “strong voice for our profession” is that we must have a healthy Political Action fund. FlightPAC forms may be downloaded from the unitedafa.org and the afanet.org websites.

CITIZENS UNITED

Citizens United vs. the Federal Elections Commission (FEC), a historic decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009, drastically altered the landscape of U.S. Elections by opening the door for unlimited and often anonymous funding of campaign ad spending. The infamous Citizens United decision has resulted in Super PAC’s that can spend unlimited amounts of money from anyone. Now corporate interests like Wall Street banks and big oil, as well as the ultra-wealthy, can contribute millions to PAC’s designed to elect legislators who will eliminate collective bargaining rights, slash Medicare and Social Security, cut taxes for the wealthy, abolish government agencies that protect workers and push an extreme social agenda.

The court’s 5-4 decision effectively gave corporations and Unions the same free speech rights as individuals which enhanced their ability to influence elections dramatically. Granted, Unions also were included in the ruling but the fact is that corporations have deep pockets and Unions simply do not have the resources to compete, creating an increasingly unlevel playing field in the political arena. In the first real test of the effects of the ruling, an unprecedented wave of outside spending was unleashed in the dreadful 2010 Midterm Elections.

The 2012 Elections will undoubtedly be even worse and will require more resources, participation and focus than ever before. We can win in 2012, and defeat these Super PAC’s, if we mobilize our members, focus on the issues, highlight candidate differences and most importantly, turn out the vote.

Return to Government Affairs Reports home page

top of page