The Guardian October 17, 2001


Airlines: A universal attack on workers

On September 21, when thousands of pilots, flight attendants and ground 
crew workers were signing up for unemployment benefits, the US Congress 
passed a Bill handing over US$17 billion to the airline industry.

Since the September 11 terror attacks, more than 100,000 workers have been 
laid off in the US.

During the Congress debate on the Bill to bailout the airlines, a proposal 
to extend unemployment and health-care benefits for the jobless workers was 
met with fierce opposition from Republican leaders.

"...the model of thought that says we need to go out and extend 
unemployment benefits and health insurance benefits and so forth is not, I 
think, one that is commensurate with the American spirit here", said one 
Representative.

"We believe in markets, not Marxism", said one Republican Senator.

The airlines that were facing substantial losses before the terrorist 
attacks, plan to pocket the Government handouts and use them to get their 
airlines back onto a profitable footing.

They have no intention of using any of this money to assist their 
workforces.

They are using the present situation as a means to launch yet another 
assault on the jobs and working conditions of airline workers, who have 
already suffered substantial reductions in wages and working conditions 
over the last 10-20 years.

American, United, Northwest and US Airways have invoked a rarely used 
provision  "force majeure"  in their union contracts.

Under this provision they can, in an emergency, wipe out jobs without 
giving the required notice and without paying redundancy benefits or 
providing early retirement incentives.

American Airlines, for example, which has laid off 506 pilots and 1,000 
flight attendants, will save millions and millions of dollars in payouts of 
workers entitlements, while at the same time receiving US$808 million from 
the Government.

"These companies have gotten massive bailouts and they are now using this 
extraordinary situation to walk away from obligations in their contracts", 
said Edward Wytkind, Executive Director of AFL-CIO's Transportation Trades 
Department.

"The result is that flight attendants were barely given time to grieve the 
loss of our flying partners before we were dealt the second devastating 
blow of losing our jobs and our financial security", said Patricia Friend, 
President of the Association of Flight Attendants.

Perhaps even worse is the approach taken by United Airlines, which was not 
unlike that of Ansett's administrators.

United Airlines announced 20,000 job cuts, but did not officially sack 
anyone. It just did not call the employees back to work.

Those workers, like their counterparts at Ansett in Australia, cannot apply 
for unemployment benefits, and at the same time have no work or income.

Airline managements are also expecting remaining workers to make 
concessions.

American Airlines are asking workers to accept "voluntary" pay cuts. One 
CEO, on a US$2 million salary, has magnanimously offered to forgo his 
salary and other compensation for the remainder of the year!

As one Northwest flight attendant wrote on an internet forum, "$15 billion 
for the shareholders, $0 for the airline workers".

He continued: "Once again the workers of this industry are the ones who 
will bare the brunt of situations that arise out of things that are beyond 
their control...

"Stockholders will see their investments secured by Government loans, 
airline workers will hit the unemployment lines."

As the editorial of the British left-wing daily Morning Star said: 
"When the industry was buoyant and profits were booming, the directors and 
shareholders rewarded themselves handsomely, but, when the cold wind blows, 
they expect to be wrapped up warm while the workers are cast out to fend 
for themselves...

"The Government should make funds available, but this should not be a 
bottomless pit of public money. It should take an equity stake in the 
airlines involved", said the Morning Star, speaking in particular 
about British Airways, who are also laying off thousand and thousands of 
workers.

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