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Airline workers are only one of several groups of working class americans who have found themselves threatened in todays econony.  There seems to be an attack on working america, and working class values, as we move towards the society of ownership.  Will Middle class america ever wake up and defend its way of life?  Jobs that are not being sent overseas are being dismantled here.  

The airline sector presents its own unique issues after being hard hit by September 11th and the war for oil.  The airline executives have run these once proud companies into the ground, and the media, the congress, and the current administration have stood by while this sector has been self destructs.  Will anyone speak up for these employees?  Will anyone speak up for working americans -- period?  

The Fight For Airline Employees

M. Ramsdell
February 2006

I am sorry to tell you it is only a job, not a career.  

This is an issue that needs to be addressed.  The statement was rumored to have been uttered by Doug Steenland C.E.O. of Northwest Airlines; it defines how many feel about the people who work in this industry.  Similar comments about airline employees have been attributed to Mr. Steenland regarding NW flight attendants being "overpaid vending machines".  It is unknown if Mr. Steenland ever really uttered such words or if it is just the stuff of airline break-room legend, but it is probably irrelevant whether or not any such comments were made by him.  The actions of and by the executives in the airline industry, would make most employees suspect this is exactly how they really feel.  The executives running the airlines make it easy to believe that they are intentionally devaluing the work of those employed in this sector.  In the current environment of concessions, lay-offs, reduced benefits and pension busting, Northwest, United, Delta and other carriers often seem bent on breaking the workers that toil beneath them.

Their comments and actions are meant to devalue our jobs.

What about the overpaid vending machines that were mentioned earlier?  It is a ridiculous thought.  Flight Attendants have difficult jobs they are sealed in a tube with the traveling public.  Doubt the value of this group of people?   At any given moment a flight attendant might have to deal with issue that range from screaming babies, air-rage, or a medical emergency.  Or maybe even terrorism.  You must remember certain facts; a dozen crewmembers gave their lives on September 11th.  It was flight attendants who stopped the "shoe bomber" Richard Reid and it was flight attendants who helped evacuate 297 people off a A340 aircraft after it skidded off of a Toronto runway a burst into flames.  This is not the work of vending machines.  Everyone in this sector has had the nature of their duties change after September 11th, yet most often it is the employees who are blamed for the woes of the industry. .

They have it all wrong.

The vast majority of the employees in this industry are highly skilled people that make a difference everyday.  The fact is the difference between a good flight, or one that is catastrophic is the level of training and competence of the employees.  There are no unimportant jobs in this industry and the people who work in it should not accept the downgrade of their careers to Wal-Mart levels or have it labeled as a Mc-Job.  Some will debate which jobs are the most critical, but every facet of aviation is important to keep people flying and to ensure public safety.  The pilots are the most obvious to start with.  The skill level and experience of the pilot is vital.  If you think a pilots job is easy remember this, if pilot makes an error on take off, landing, or at thirty thousand feet the results can be catastrophic. Yet the pilots job is getting more difficult every day as they face longer duty times leading to fatigue issues.  The best pilot has no hope of getting off the ground unless he is backed by skilled mechanics.  Few people stop to consider if a competent and qualified mechanic in the United States has done the repairs on an aircraft.  It is something that should be considered before leaving the ground.

Workers on the ground play also a critical role.  The competence of the people on the ground can also dictate the level of safety in the air.  Functions like weight and balance, deicing, and fueling of the aircraft are of very high importance to the safety of any flight.  These employees are often asked to perform our duties on days the post-office cannot manage to deliver the mail due to the weather conditions.  Even aircraft cleaners who many would choose to look down upon have a critical job as well.  If you don't believe this take a long flight sometime on an aircraft that has not had the cabin cleaned or had lavatory service performed on it.  Think this is an easy job?   Try dumping the lavs on a 747 or even an regional jet when the weather is bad, pick a day when the temperature is below zero and the winds are strong, this will change your perception.  There are no easy jobs and each of us depends on the other to a certain degree to make any airline move forward.  Everyone in this sector has had the nature of their duties change after September 11th yet most often it is the employees who are blamed for the woes of the industry.

It's not the other group's fault.

Airlines have been masterful at pitting all of the groups against each other in the industries post September 11th concessionary reality.  As airline employees we have to remember that we cannot allow our work to be devalued, and we must not discount or belittle the others working in this sector.  The executives in this industry have already done a great job of this, and the employees of this industry must see past this.  Almost of us have had to undergo a ten-year background checks, drug testing and extensive training to work in this field.  

These are profound reasons why our jobs are not the "Mc Jobs" many would like to make them out to be.  The comments and attitudes of airline management are crafted towards selling the public, the government and rival employee groups, on the thought that there are people working in the industry that do not deserve the level of compensation they are earning.  These are the types of ideas are advanced to create the myths that justify the concessionary environment.  They are advanced most often by airline executives who are lining their pockets with stock options, key employee retention programs, inflated retirement packages, and golden parachutes.  Bankruptcy has not slowed this trend, and the executives of this industry seem to be the one group that is not taking any real concessions.  

It can and must change.

If we are going to affect any kind of change in this industry one of the things that will have to change is the misperceptions regarded as truth.  To stop the downward trend of the cutthroat business practices and the current concessionary environment, it will take the efforts of many different groups of employees from many different airlines working together.  For many working in the airlines you have chosen this as a career because it was something extraordinary, and it was something to earn a living at.  Together we must find ways to defend the value of those working in this sector and the jobs they do, in order to keep the reasons why we do this work a reality.  

It's a career not a job, and this is the fight for all airline employees.

You can help join the battle at:

Or via Email

If I am wrong on this tell me why, or send your comments to:

Or on the internet at:

It is likely you have received or are reading this article because you are active in the cause of labor.  Your fight is an honorable one. -- Thank you for all your efforts.


For references pertaining to this article and for more information:

Courage in the air

Flight crews to be taught to stop hijackers rather than cooperate with them

No Deaths In Toronto Plane Crash

All 309 Survive Plane Crash in Toronto

ASIG Employee Geovanni Reyes Named Industry Hero

The Loose Cannon's views are not affiliated with any group or organization they are provided as only a point a view.  Everyone is encouraged to be well informed and develop his or her own opinions.  What readers do with the information provided is completely their own personal choice.  

Originally posted to The Loose Cannon on Thu Feb 02, 2006 at 03:16 PM PST.


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Comment Preferences

  •  My brother is (none)
    a NorthWest employee and his job is hanging by a thread.

    It's been sad to see what a change there has been in the lives of airline employees over the past twenty five years.

    It started with airline deregulation and the breaking of the flight controllers union in the Reagan administration.

    It's another case of screw-the-employees we want cheaper wages.

    We need to find a way to make corporate management accountable for the damage they cause.

    •  I'm glad to see... (none)
      that I'm not the only one that attributes this mess back to the days of Reagan. I was a programmer in the early 80's and I spent a good deal of my time, modifing payroll systems for the new "2 tier wage systems" where one guy in the plant is making $20/hour and the new guy hired to work right next to him makes minimum wage. That was the very beginning and it's been getting worse for labor ever since. Now minimum wage is to much to pay so we send the jobs overseas. Disgusting, just disgusting!!!!!

      Just when you thought it couldn't possibly get any worse...

      by reflectionsv37 on Thu Feb 02, 2006 at 03:51:06 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Sounds like you might already... (none)
    know this, but I'll tell the story for others. I have a friend who was a pilot for United for 35 years. He just retired about 2 years ago and was looking forward to his retirement. He had made numerous pay concessions from time to time to help ensure the airline remained profitable and to ensure that his pension remained intact. Then everything changed. He was forced into retirement by the US government at age 60. Then United dumped their pensions on the taxpayers. He now realized that he was only going to receive 50% of his pension and United woouldn't be providing that health insurance he'd been promised for 35 years. But it gets worse. Can't recall the name of the government Pension Bailout program, but they have substantial penalties if you retire before age 65. So he had to retire at 60, but is being penalized by a government agency for not working until he was 65. As it looks right now, he will only be recieving about 20% of the pension he worked 35 years to obtain, not to mention the health insurance issue.

    And this is just the beginning!! GM & Ford employees, you better be paying attention to this!!  Your next! And if my predictions are correct, it won't be long before we hear the same rhetoric from the telecoms. Particularly with the prospect of huge class action suits because of the NSA spying fiasco. Actually, it is a trend, part of the new business plan, to dump the pension plans. This is going to be a catastrophy to many, many different workers and this is just the tip of the iceberg!!

    Just when you thought it couldn't possibly get any worse...

    by reflectionsv37 on Thu Feb 02, 2006 at 03:45:47 PM PST

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