Showing posts with label labor issues. Show all posts
Showing posts with label labor issues. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Court orders Philippine Airlines to reinstate 1,400 cabin crew jobs, with back wages

Philippine AirlinesEarlier this week, the Supreme Court (SC) of the Philippines ordered national flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) to reinstate about 1,400 cabin crew who were illegally laid off by the carrier in 1998. The cabin crew jobs were eliminated during the Asian financial crisis, a period when Philippine Airlines was undergoing financial difficulties and labor disputes that led the carrier to temporarily shut down operations. The court decision is seen as a clear victory for the Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines (Fasap), which had filed suit against the carrier on behalf of the dismissed cabin crew.

According to an article about the court decision in the Manila Sun-Star, the Supreme Court "granted the petition filed by the Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines (Fasap) seeking a reversal of the Court of Appeals (CA) decision upholding PAL's retrenchment program."

The SC sustained the findings of the labor arbiter that found PAL guilty of illegal dismissal and ordered the reinstatement of the dismissed employees, saying the airline failed to comply with certain standards established under the law.

The high court said PAL failed to justify that the retrenchment is necessary and likely to prevent business losses; that the dismissal was done in good faith; and that it used reasonable criteria in ascertaining who would be dismissed and who would be retained among the employees, such as status, efficiency, seniority, physical fitness, age, and financial hardship for certain workers.

According to the SC, PAL initially decided to cut its fleet size to only 14 or "Plan 14," based on which plan, it retrenched more than 1,400 of its cabin crew personnel. However, PAL changed its mind and decided to retain 22 units of aircraft or "Plan 22" but has already retrenched more than what was necessary.

Such move, the court said, is "capricious and arbitrary" and in bad faith considering that more than 1,000 employees who had been working long with PAL lost their jobs, only to be recalled but assigned to lower positions.
The court ruled that PAL acted illegally "because it failed to take into account each cabin attendant's respective service record, thereby disregarding seniority and loyalty in the evaluation of overall employee performance."

The Sun-Star reported that, under the terms of the court decision, PAL is "directed to pay the dismissed employees their full back wages, inclusive of allowances and other benefits computed from the time of their separation up to the time of the actual reinstatement. When reinstatement is no longer feasible, the court ordered PAL to pay the back wages, in lieu of the reinstatement, and separation pay equal to one month's pay for every year of service."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

ASA flight attendants ratify new three-year contract

ASA flight attendantFlight attendants at Atlantic Southeast Airlines (ASA) have a new contract. The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), the union representing ASA's flight attendants, announced yesterday that the flight attendants had overwhelmingly ratified a three year agreement.

According to the union, the new contract contains economic gains, as well as significant work rule improvements that will improve the lives of the hardworking flight attendants at ASA. In addition, the new contract will serve as a good building block for the next round of contract negotiations that will begin in three years.

“We are very pleased that this agreement ratified,” said Jeannie Babb, AFA-CWA Master Executive Council President. “It represents almost five years of hard work which could not have been accomplished without the commitment of the negotiating committee and the support of the flight attendants at ASA. We would like to also acknowledge the assistance that the National Mediation Board provided during the negotiations.”

[Photo Source]

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

All Cathay Pacific cabin crew may now work until age 55

Cathay Pacific AirwaysEffective immediately, all flight attendants at Cathay Pacific Airways will be able to continue working at the airline until they reach the age of 55. Until now, cabin crew who began working for Cathay Pacific after 1993 faced mandatory retirement at age 45. Those hired before 1993 were allowed to work until they became 55. Under the new rule, the same retirement age will apply for all, regardless of hire date. The rule applies to both male and female cabin crew.

The change reflects recent negotiations between the Cathay Pacific Airways Flight Attendants' Union and the airline's management. The rule change will affect the 5,000 cabin crew currently based in Hong Kong, and also will be applied to the 1,500 or so new-hires that Cathay Pacific intends to add to its work force by the end of this year.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Largest flight attendant union in the U.S. endorses Barack Obama for President

Barack ObamaThe Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), the largest flight attendant union in the United States, recently announced their support for Sen. Barack Obama in his bid to become President of the United States. Over 200 flight attendant leaders voted by acclamation to endorse Sen. Obama during AFA-CWA's 35th annual meeting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, according to a news release issued by the AFA.

More from the AFA news release:

The Board's resolution stated that, "In the coming years, many decisions that could reshape the face of aviation will be made while the chorus for unfettered global aviation ownership and service grows louder. Also, it is crucial that policymakers in Washington realize that the U.S. aviation system since deregulation has failed airline employees, communities and consumers. We are at a turning point and need a President who recognizes this struggle."

AFA-CWA remains committed to supporting political candidates of all parties. The only criteria is that the candidate support issues important to the flight attendant profession and the improvement of working women's and men's lives.

"While AFA-CWA strongly supports both Democrats and Republicans for offices that have an impact on the flight attendant profession, the record of the two candidates for President, on issues of importance to our industry and our profession, the choice is clear," added AFA-CWA. "We must choose the future for our profession that continues to value our work as front line responders and safety professionals in a strong and vibrant U.S. aviation system."
The AFA represents more than 55,000 flight attendants at 20 airlines. AFA is part of the 700,000-member strong Communications Workers of America (CWA), AFL-CIO.

[Photo Source]

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Flight attendant union protests Midwest Airlines pay cuts

AFA-CWA logoLate last month I reported that Midwest Airlines not only intends to reduce its flight attendant work force by more than half, but is asking those who remain on the job to accept massive cuts in pay and benefits. These proposals have infuriated the flight attendants at Midwest Airlines, and rightly so, since they already earn 19 percent less than flight attendants at other low fare carriers.

Last evening the flight attendants publicly protested these draconian reductions in pay, but it was not just Midwest Airlines flight attendants who participated in the event. Hundreds of flight attendants from 20 carriers joined in the protest as a show of solidarity with the flight attendants of Midwest Airlines.

The flight attendants -- all members of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), the union that represents Midwest Airlines flight attendants -- formed up at the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee and held a candlelight march to the Midwest Center. There they heard remarks made by AFA-CWA International President Patricia Friend, AFA-CWA Midwest President Toni Higgins and a guest from the Milwaukee Central Labor Council.

The AFA leadership explains the situation that prompted this public protest:

In June, in order to offset rising fuel prices and a failed business plan, Midwest Airlines management hired an outside consulting firm, the Seabury Group, to present the flight attendants with a proposal that included furloughing half the work force, over 55 percent pay cuts for those remaining and additional slashes to current work rules. AFA-CWA was given the proposal without any supporting information or documentation and told that, if not accepted, management would have no choice but to file for bankruptcy. After repeated requests by AFA-CWA, management finally supplied background on the proposal, however the information provided was inaccurate and incomplete.

According to the Seabury Group's plan, the proposed Midwest flight attendant pay scale was compiled by taking the average pay rate of flight attendants from smaller carriers and reducing the average by 15 percent. However, as management continued to insist that the concessions were "fair and equitable" for all work groups, calculations for management and non-union employee concessions were based on average salaries at larger, more profitable mainline carriers such as Southwest and Delta.

AFA-CWA has notified management of its intent to negotiate, but not under the current proposed terms. In 2003, Midwest flight attendants took concessions to help the company avoid bankruptcy. Shortly after the concessionary contract was signed, management rewarded themselves with pay restoration and increases, while flight attendants and pilots continued to work under the reduced wages and work rules.
Currently, Midwest Airlines flight attendants earn between $17,000 and $39,000 annually. Should the airline management's proposed pay cuts be implemented, the flight attendants would earn only $13,000 to $25,000 per year.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

American Airlines cutting 900 flight attendant jobs

American AirlinesAt it annual shareholder meeting earlier this year, American Airlines announced plans to cut capacity in the coming months, and acknowledged that the capacity reduction would result in the loss of thousands of jobs across every work group. This week, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), the union representing American Airlines flight attendants, was notified of plans to cut 900 flight attendant jobs.

According to the APFA, the letter to the union stated that the 900 most junior U.S. based flight attendants are subject to furlough effective August 31, 2008. Several measures intended to mitigate the impact of the work force reduction requirements have been negotiated between the APFA and American Airlines.

The first of these measures is called the Voluntary Bridge to Retirement (a program similar to one offered by United Airlines to its senior flight attendants last month). Under the provisions of the American Airlines Voluntary Bridge to Retirement, the company will offer a severance payment of $15,000, plus medical and pass benefits to flight attendants who are at least 50 years of age who will have at least 15 years company seniority as of August 31, 2008. In addition, American Airlines will offer Overage Leaves of Absence and opportunities for Partnership Flying, a job sharing plan.

A Hotline message on the APFA website about the work force reduction said that the one-time Voluntary Bridge to Retirement will be awarded first, followed by leaves at bases with an overage. Where overages then still exist, partnerships will be awarded. After these three voluntary provisions are exhausted, and should any overage still exist, the company will then determine how many flight attendants will need to be furloughed involuntarily in order to meet flight attendant work force reduction target of 900.

According to the flight attendants' contract with American Airlines, “When there is a reduction in force, the Flight Attendant(s) with the least system seniority shall be laid off." Presumably the majority of those would be the former TWA flight attendants, who also were furloughed after the September 2001 terrorist attacks. American Airlines recalled 200 of those furloughed flight attendants in May of 2007, and another 460 in August of 2007.

As of the end of June, there were still 1,192 American Airlines flight attendants on furlough from the earlier layoffs. This week's announcement of new furloughs surely comes as a blow to those who have been awaiting recall for years.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Midwest Airlines flight attendants call proposed concessions 'ludicrous'

Midwest AirlinesMidwest Airlines is seeking to reduce its flight attendant work force by more than half, and also wants those remaining on the job to agree to massive cuts in pay and benefits. This week the Seabury Group, an outside consulting firm hired by Midwest Airlines, presented this potentially devastating plan to the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), the union representing Midwest's flight attendants. The union called the proposed concessionary package "ludicrous."

The plan proposes to cut 217 flight attendant positions, meaning over half of the Midwest Airlines flight attendants would lose their jobs. Those remaining would be asked to agree to hourly pay rate cuts ranging from 34 to 56 percent, plus other concessions that would reduce their income even further.

The union leadership calls the proposed plan "ludicrous" because Midwest Airlines flight attendants already earn 19 percent less than flight attendants at other low cost carriers. The AFA points out that the proposed Seabury plan included no supporting evidence to indicate that Midwest Airlines flight attendants' pay is too high.

In response to the proposed plan, Dory Klein, President of the Midwest Airlines unit of the AFA stated:

"This proposal is insulting, irrational, and fails to be fair and equitable. Midwest flight attendants are currently working under concessions that were negotiated five years ago in order for management to have the resources they needed to return our airline to profitability. Since that time, management has failed to create a viable business plan. It should be their responsibility to carry the burden of restructuring, not the flight attendants'.

"We have made repeated requests to review management and non-contract employee concessions, but have not received this information, which is particularly critical in light of what happened during our last round of concessions in 2003. Shortly after we took pay and work rule cuts, management gave themselves a pay increase and restored the concessions from all other non-union work groups."
The union leader said, "As we wait and see what the future holds for Midwest Airlines, we will continue to do everything we can to protect the careers of Midwest flight attendants."

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Details of the United Airlines Flight Attendant 'Early Out' Program

United AirlinesLast week, United Airlines announced plans to retire 100 aircraft, end its low-fare Ted service, and cut over 1,000 jobs. In conjunction with those plans, the airline announced that it will offer "a one-time opportunity for eligible flight attendants to voluntarily separate from the company." Known as the Early Out Program, the voluntary separations will be made available for up to 600 senior United flight attendants.

The United Airlines announcement about the Early Out Program summarizes:

Flight attendants who are at least 45 years old and have at least 15 years of flight attendant service with the company as of August 1, 2008 will be eligible to participate. Participants will be entitled to severance payments based on years of service and retiree travel benefits.
Sounds potentially attractive on the surface, but is this a good deal for senior flight attendants or not? The answer is, "It depends."

Mostly it depends on whether the flight attendant has another source of income to rely on, and access to affordable health insurance coverage.

The present Early Out Program is based on a collective bargaining agreement reached between United Airlines and the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), the union representing United's flight attendants. The details of the Early Out Program have been made available on the public section of the website of the United Master Executive Council (MEC) of AFA:
  • Eligibility
    • Flight attendants aged 45 or greater, and with at least 15 years service are eligible for the Early Out.

    • Flight attendants aged 55 or greater, and with at least 15 years service are eligible for retirement, plus the Early Out.

  • Early Out Severance Pay will consist of $500 for each year of service as a Flight Attendant up to 25 years ($12,500 cap). Total pay is distributed in 12 equal installments beginning January 2009.
    • Example: 18 years of Flight Attendant service equals $9000. This would be paid out at $750 per month, before taxes, for 12 months.

  • Travel Benefits - retiree travel pass benefits provided for all Early Out participants.

  • Life Insurance will be provided only for those who enter retirement at the time of the Early Out.

  • Medical Insurance will be provided for those Early Out participants who also retire, but not to those who are too young to do so. The latter will be able "to purchase COBRA for continued medical coverage for 18 months at the full cost of the insurance and administration."
United Airlines flight attendants who meet the age and length of service criteria for the Early Out Program would have been employed by the airline prior to and during the carrier's recent bankruptcy period. That means that they had their company pension plans terminated in 2005. At that time, United Airlines defaulted on its pension obligations, and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) took over pensions for workers at the airline, including the flight attendants.

Federal regulations limit the amount of pension payments the PBGC can make -- an amount far less than the original pensions -- and by law, that amount is further reduced if the worker retires early, i.e., before age 65. As a result, many flight attendants at United have since felt that they had no practical choice but to continue working until their 65th birthdays. To do otherwise would put them in serious financial straits.

In light of that situation, it seems that the current Early Out Program will be attractive mostly to those who already have a substantial second income, or whose spouses' or partners' income and health care benefits are sufficient to support them.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Flight attendant union files charges against Delta Air Lines

AFA-CWA logoThe Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) has filed formal charges with the National Mediation Board (NMB) against Delta Air Lines alleging that the carrier's management illegally interfered with a recent union representation election among Delta's flight attendants. The allegations "include substantial evidence that Delta flight attendants were denied a free and fair election due to management's aggressive tactics aimed at defeating union representation."

In February of this year, a majority of Delta Air Lines flight attendants signed cards indicating that they wanted union representation. This was the first step in the unionization process. The second step was an official election to determine union representation, a process which ended on May 28.

Under the rules of the NMB, which supervises such elections, 50%-plus-one of all those eligible to vote must do so in order for an election to be certified. In the recent election, only 40% of eligible Delta Air Lines flight attendants cast ballots, thus even though the vast majority of those votes favored the AFA, the election could not be certified.

In a statement issued by the AFA, the organization's International President, Patricia Friend, said, "Delta flight attendants were denied the opportunity to freely participate in this election without being intimidated by management and heavy-handed efforts to keep them from gaining a voice. A majority of Delta flight attendants wanted the opportunity to have an election and they deserve an election that is free and fair. We now look for the NMB to stand up for that right and hold Delta executives accountable for their actions."

The AFA has charged that Delta management acted illegally to suppress the union vote, leading to the less-than-majority turnout, and the subsequently nullified election result. The AFA says:

If the NMB finds sufficient evidence that illegal interference occurred, it can set a new election. AFA-CWA is asking for a new election with a balloting procedure that will limit the effects of any further illegal conduct by Delta management. By rerunning the election using a 'Laker' Ballot, flight attendants will be permitted to vote "Yes" or "No" for AFA-CWA representation. In the previous election, flight attendants were discouraged from participating in the voting process as only the "Yes" votes were counted, thereby automatically counting those who did not vote as "No" votes.
Meanwhile, Delta's plans for a merger with Northwest Airlines are moving forward. Northwest's flight attendants already are represented by the AFA, and they have expressed an intention to stay with the union after the merger is complete.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

New pay agreement for Aeromexico flight attendants

Aeroméxico logoFlight attendants at Aeroméxico have agreed to a new pay and benefits package that includes a 4.5% raise. This amount was a compromise: earlier the airline had offered 4.25%, while the flight attendants initially had asked for a 5% raise in salary. The new pay package, announced on June 1, 2008, "will cut benefits like parking and dry cleaning payments and subsidized uniforms," according to a Reuters article about the agreement.

Privately owned Aeroméxico, the largest airline in Mexico, employs some 1,500 flight attendants. The flight attendants' union had threatened to strike if a new pay agreement had not been reached by June 1, 2008.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Flyglobespan cabin crew to have union representation

Unite logoUnite, the largest trade union within the Civil Air Transport Sector in the United Kingdom, has officially gained recognition as the collective bargaining unit for more than 200 cabin crew at the low fare airline Flyglobespan. In a statement released by Unite, national officer Brian Boyd described the deal as a 'breakthrough'. The union has been involved in a long campaign for recognition at Flyglobespan which has been resisted by the company for more than a year.

The union submitted an application to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) in December of 2007 for recognition for collective bargaining at Flyglobespan. The CAC now has declared that the union should be recognized by the employer to conduct collective bargaining on behalf of all UK based permanent cabin crew including senior cabin crew at the following airports: Glasgow, Edinburgh, Durham Tees, Exeter, London Gatwick, Doncaster/Sheffield, Newcastle, Birmingham and Belfast. Flyglobespan is headquartered at Edinburgh.

Mr. Boyd said, "This is a breakthrough for cabin crew employees at Flyglobespan. They have sought nothing more than the basic right to be heard in their workplace. They are a dedicated and professional group of workers, who have served passengers well in difficult circumstances.

"They are now entitled to be rewarded for their efforts with improved terms and conditions of employment. We will now be entering into discussions with the company, with the intention of establishing a positive relationship, and one that acts on the concerns of Flyglobespan's cabin crew."

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Delta flight attendant union certification election results

Poster in a Delta Airlines crew lounge urges flight attendants to rip up their union ballots.Balloting for the election to certify the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) as the collective bargaining unit representing Delta Air Lines flight attendants was completed today, May 28, 2008. The AFA reportedly won the "vast majority" of the votes cast, however only about 40% of those eligible to vote did so. Under the rules of the National Mediation Board (NMB), which supervised the election, a majority of eligible voters must cast ballots in order for the election outcome to be certified. Since that did not happen, the AFA cannot be certified as the union representative for Delta's flight attendants at this time.

Management at Delta Air Lines openly opposed flight attendant unionization. The AFA has claimed that an aggressive voter suppression campaign by Delta management kept thousands from casting a vote. Tactics included the posting of signs in flight attendants' crew lounges (see photo) "encouraging them to rip up the voting information before even bothering to read about their rights."

"For months, Delta management has touted its commitment to the democratic process, yet never let up on their intimidation and coercion of voters. Their empty rhetoric cannot conceal their interference. The conditions surrounding election were neither free nor fair, as required by NMB statutes. Now it is up to the National Mediation Board to defend the Delta flight attendants’ right to an election free of interference," said AFA International President Patricia Friend in a statement issued by AFA.

Delta Air Lines put a different spin on the outcome of the union certification election. Instead of mentioning that only about 40% of those eligible cast a vote, the airline's management interpreted the non-votes as NO votes, by stating the following in a Delta Air Lines press release issued today:

Delta Air Lines has received notification from the National Mediation Board (NMB) that a decisive majority – more than 60 percent – of eligible flight attendants rejected representation by the Association of Flight Attendants/Communication Workers of America (AFA) in the representation election at Delta, and the airline will continue a direct relationship with its flight attendants.

“We are pleased that Delta’s flight attendants clearly believe that our unique culture and direct relationship are worth preserving,” said Delta CEO Richard Anderson. “Delta continues to be the best advocate for its people, and our employees recognize the benefits of working together to enhance their careers and drive successful results for themselves and our company.”

Joanne Smith, senior vice president – In-Flight Service and Global Product Development, added, “This decision was one of the biggest our flight attendants faced in their career at Delta and it arose during some challenging times in our industry. Through all of these distractions – soaring fuel costs, a softening economy and an unrelenting AFA campaign of scare tactics and inaccurate information – the professionalism of all of our flight attendants shone as they maintained an unwavering focus on safety and service. This comes as no surprise however, because that is the Delta Difference; it is what sets us apart from the rest of this industry.
Not all Delta flight attendants share management's view of the situation, as evidenced by a particularly well-written opinion piece by a Delta flight attendant in today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Here is part of what she said:
To protect our future, it is critical that we have safeguards to keep management from destroying our profession —- safeguards that are detailed in a legally binding contract. Delta flight attendants want to maintain the quality of middle-class jobs that have benefited the local Atlanta economy and communities across the country for decades. We want to have a say in building and growing the world's largest airline.

What once was a "family style" environment at Delta is no more. This sad fact faces us each day. The new Delta is run by a group of executives who have only been around for nine months. People like former Northwest CEO Richard Anderson are making decisions that will affect the future of Delta flight attendants who have spent their lives building our company.

Our airline has evolved, and Delta flight attendants intend to do so as well. By becoming union members, we will actively defend our profession. We will protect our interests as we work alongside management in creating the world's largest airline.
There is another chapter to this story that has yet been told: When the Delta - Northwest Airlines merger takes place another union certification election will be held, since Northwest's flight attendants already are represented by AFA. Under the rules of the NMB, when a non-union work group merges with a union group, if 35 percent of combined workforce has union representation or signs a union card, a union election will automatically be called. That vote is expected to occur in early 2009.

[Photo Source]

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Air Jamaica flight attendants awarded retroactive pay for their work on the ground

Air Jamaica cabin crewFlight attendants who worked for Air Jamaica between 2003 and 2005 are going to be paid retroactively for duties they carried out on the ground before and after flights, according to a recent news item on Radio Jamaica. The payments were awarded by an Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT) ruling handed down in February this year, following a five-year dispute between the airline and its cabin crew.

The article quoted President-General of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) Kavon Gayle, who said, "[Payments will be made] beginning this month, May and June...this payment will also be made to flight attendants who have left the company and those whose positions were made redundant in 2005 bearing in mind that the payments are retroactive from 2003 to 2005."

More than 500 flight attendants will receive retroactive special duty allowances that Air Jamaica failed to pay them for duties carried out before and after flights.

The premise of this case is similar to another I wrote about last month. In that case a flight attendant sued Israeli carrier Arkia Airlines for pay she says is owed her for work she did while on the ground. Two cases don't exactly make a trend, but these disputes do call attention to the widespread practice of not compensating flight attendants for work they do on the ground before and after flights, much of which is directly related to flight safety. Kudos to the Industrial Disputes Tribunal for their decision in the Air Jamaica case.

[Photo Source]

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Delta flight attendants accuse management of suppressing union voters

Delta Airlines logoFlight attendants at Delta Air Lines voted earlier this year to unionize. A majority of Delta flight attendants already have submitted signature cards to the National Mediation Board (NMB), indicating that they wanted to be represented by a formal collective bargaining unit, even though Delta management has openly opposed the move toward flight attendant unionization.

Last week, Delta flight attendants began the next phase, casting their votes to decide whether the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) will be certified as their collective bargaining representative. The voting process, carried out under the supervision of the NMB, will continue until May 28, 2008. According to the rules, a majority of the entire flight attendant workforce must cast a vote in order for the election to be valid. Anything less than this majority turnout will void the election entirely, even if the union gets a clear majority of the votes cast.

Apparently the management of Delta Air Lines is persisting in its opposition to the union election, employing what AFA activists describe as "tactics of intimidation and interference, pushing flight attendants not to vote for the union." Earlier this week, a number of Delta flight attendants met with Congressional leaders to brief them on "Delta management’s aggressive voter suppression campaign during the current AFA-CWA representation election."

In a news release about their meetings with Congressional officials, the Delta flight attendants explain:

Management’s anti-union voter suppression campaign gained the attention of Capitol Hill earlier this month, prior to the start of the vote. In the U.S. Senate, 26 Senators submitted a letter to Delta Air Lines executives urging them to “demonstrate a genuine commitment to cooperative labor relations” and to remain neutral in this election. Delta executives never responded to the Senators’ letter. At the very moment Anderson was testifying in a U.S. House hearing on Delta’s announced merger with Northwest Airlines, management’s latest anti-union, voter suppression packet – with letters and a DVD – was being mailed to all flight attendants’ homes.

“Actions speak louder than words and management’s actions right now clearly indicate that they want to prevent us from having a union and having the right to negotiate a legally binding contract,” said Mara Levene, a Delta flight attendant and AFA-CWA activist. “Management will do whatever it takes to make sure that we do not have a voice. A solid majority of Delta flight attendants wanted this election and despite management’s fear tactics, bullying and intimidation, we remain determined and are voting for AFA-CWA representation.”
Delta CEO Richard Anderson testified in Congress last week that "management was supportive of the democratic process and would not engage in illegal interference." Not so, says Patricia Friend, AFA International President. “Their current actions to keep flight attendants from voting are anti-democratic and are a disgrace. Delta flight attendants have earned and deserve the right to have a voice in their future and a seat at the table,” said Ms. Friend.

Delta currently is seeking approval for a planned merger with Northwest Airlines. It is worth pointing out that Northwest's flight attendants already are represented by AFA. Delta's flight attendants have never had union representation.

Monday, April 21, 2008

SAS Scandinavian Airlines' Asian cabin crew dispute

SAS logoLast month I reported that Scandinavian airline SAS went on trial in Copenhagen for allegedly employing Asian flight attendants without Danish work permits. The airline also was accused of paying the Asian cabin crew members substandard wages.

The matter was heard in the Copenhagen City Court, and the Copenhagen Post reports that SAS was found guilty of the charges and fined DKK 900,000. SAS has appealed the verdict to the Danish High Court.

Meanwhile, legislation has been proposed in the Danish Parliament to allow SAS, which is partly owned by the Danish government, to use Chinese personnel on its route between Copenhagen and Beijing. Now the Copenhagen Post is reporting that if parliament does not allow SAS to use Asian cabin crew, the airline has said it may re-register its planes in Norway or Sweden.

The Copenhagen Post article quotes Lars Sandahl Sørensen, CEO of SAS International, who said, "Although it's a solution we'd rather avoid, we might be forced into it."

Planes registered in Denmark are required to operate with personnel who are legally allowed to work in Denmark. The same permit rule may exist in Sweden and Norway as well, but Sørensen said, "...if it does then it would only apply to those countries' own airspaces, and not to Denmark." In other words, the plan seems to be to fly the Beijing-Copenhagen route with planes registered outside of Denmark, in order to dodge the Danish work permit rule.

Sørensen said that employing Chinese crews has nothing to do with paying them lower wages and everything to do with service.

"It's integral for us to have Chinese cabin crews on our flights to China because half the passengers are Chinese," he said. "And it's hard to provide good service for them if we can't communicate."

Sørensen said SAS could not pay the Chinese flight attendants Danish wages because it would create a huge salary disparity between them and their colleagues working on the ground in mainland China. The Chinese crew members earn around 10,000 kroner less per month than their Danish counterparts.
This argument sounds similar to excuses given by Air New Zealand for paying its Chinese cabin crew a fraction of what it pays New Zealand nationals to do identical work. Verner Lundtoft, president of the Cabin Attendants Union, says that the SAS threat to sidestep Danish law is "appalling," and I agree.
"We're talking about a partially state-owned and listed company attempting to avoid the requirements of Danish law," said Lundtoft. "It's completely unacceptable."

Lundtoft pointed out that none of SAS' competitors have employed Asian personnel on their China routes without providing equal working conditions.

"Finnair says it pays their Asian crews Finnish wages, Lufthansa has Chinese cabin crew members earning German scale pay, and Air France has interpreters on board its Asian flights," said Lundtoft.
Apparently SAS can legally re-register its planes in Sweden and Norway, as the airline is a Scandinavian-operated company. It remains to be seen if this will solve the labor issue, however.

It's time for all international air carriers to pay all crew equally for equal work, regardless of ethnicity or national origin. No excuses!

Friday, April 11, 2008

American Airlines flight attendants get pay protection for lost time

APFA logoAmerican Airlines will provide pay protection to flight attendants who lost time as a direct result of flight cancellations during the recent grounding of the airline's MD80 fleet. According to an announcement posted on April 10, 2008 to the website of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the union representing American Airlines flight attendants, "This pay protection applies not only to monthly guarantee but also to those who have lost high-time hours as well as commuters who were unable to make their trips - as a result of the MD80 re-inspections - after having followed commuter policy guidelines."

A separate agreement, also announced on April 10, 2008, provides American Airlines flight attendants with a mechanism to restore Personal Vacation Days (PVDs) that were voluntarily used to supplement pay following last month's MD80 cancellations. Flight attendants who used PVDs to protect loss of pay will have the option to make up time in order to restore the PVDs that were used.

Letters of Understanding for both the pay protection agreement and the PVD recovery agreement stipulate that they are offered on a non-precedent setting basis. Details can be found in the following documents:

American Airlines also reached a similar agreement with its pilots regarding pay protection. American Airlines pilots are represented by the Allied Pilots Association.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Flight attendant sues Arkia Airlines for unpaid work on the ground

Arkia Airlines Boeing 757A flight attendant in Israel is suing her former employer for pay she says is owed her for work she did while on the ground. Shiri Segal, who worked for Arkia Airlines for nearly 10 years, recently filed a lawsuit in the Tel Aviv Labor Court against the Israeli carrier on the grounds that the airline does not pay flight attendants for work they do while not flying. Ms. Segal is asking for compensation of NIS 140,000 (equivalent to about US $38,750).

An article about the lawsuit on the Israeli business news website Globes Online explains:

Segal says that as a matter of policy, which is stipulated in labor contracts, Arkia pays flight attendants only for hours actually in the air. In other words, "from the moment that the plane is moving under its own power from the terminal to the takeoff point and until the engines are shut down after landing."

Segal claims that a large part of a flight attendant's work is spent on the ground, before and after a flight. This work includes, but is not limited to, accepting the planes and handing them over, checking the plane before embarkation and after disembarkation of passengers, examining emergency equipment, positioning seat belts, and preparing drink and food carts.

She says that on international flights, she usually begins work at least two hours before takeoff and for two more hours after landing at the destination. Ground work in Israel on the return trip after landing is usually 1.5 hours, for a total of 5.5 hours for which no compensation is paid.
Ms. Segal also notes that Arkia never paid her for the hours waiting for the return flight.

I'm sure that the progress of this lawsuit will be of interest to cabin crew around the world, most of whom are similarly unpaid for work they do on the ground. Most people outside the industry probably are unaware that flight attendants are paid only for "block time" -- that is, from the time the aircraft door closes just prior to departure, until the aircraft's engines are shut down at the destination.

How is it that cabin crew are contractually obligated to perform certain tasks before and after flights, but are not paid for those tasks and the time it takes to perform them? Many of these procedures are safety related, required by government regulations, yet crew are expected to carry them out without any sort of compensation.

Regardless of the outcome of this lawsuit, it calls attention to an entrenched practice in the aviation industry that denies proper compensation to crew for the legitimate and necessary work they do on the ground. Clearly, this practice needs to be reconsidered. If the work is of value to the carrier -- and it is -- then those who do it should be fairly compensated.

[Photo Source]

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Delta Air Lines opposes flight attendant unionization

Delta Airlines logoAs I wrote here in Cabin Crew News last month, Delta flight attendants are seeking union representation. In that article I wrote:

Up to now, Delta flight attendants have not been unionized. Although there has been growing dissatisfaction with pay and work rules among the rank and file, it seems that the tipping point came as Delta began engaging in merger talks with other carriers. Now a growing number of Delta's flight attendants are acknowledging the potential value of representation by a formal collective bargaining unit such as the AFA [the Association of Flight Attendants].
On February 14, 2008, a majority of Delta flight attendants did indeed submit signature cards to the National Mediation Board (NMB), formally requesting union representation. Yesterday, the NMB officially announced that the flight attendants' request for election of a union had been authorized. In its letter to Delta Air Lines and the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), the NMB indicated that "the election will be conducted by Telephone Electronic Voting and Internet Voting."
The Notice and Sample Instruction will be sent out on April 16, 2008. The Voting Instructions will be mailed to the employees on April 23, 2008. The voting period will be from 12:01 a.m., ET, April 23, 2008, through June 3, 2008. The tally will take place at the Board's offices on June 3, 2008, at 2 p.m. ET.
Today, Delta's response to this news was to issue a press release with a very lengthy title:

Delta Flight Attendants to Decide on Union Representation; Company Says Direct Relationship with Management Best for Flight Attendants

That title, folks, is the story in a nutshell. But there is a longer version. The press release, referenced above, included the text of a statement from Joanne Smith, senior vice president – In-Flight Service and Global Product Development, as follows:
“Delta flight attendants will make one of the most important decisions of their careers over the coming months as they choose between a direct relationship with Delta’s management team or the cost and risk of a third-party representative,” Smith said. “Our flight attendants have long been successful at speaking for themselves and we continually demonstrate our willingness to respond quickly and directly to their individual and collective feedback. I’m asking all of our flight attendants to make an educated choice, based on fact.

“The facts are: Delta flight attendants have it better than what the Association of Flight Attendants’ has been able to deliver at other airlines, and those airlines’ contracts are not open to changes for several years to come – years in which Delta flight attendants will continue to enjoy higher rates of pay, a better profit sharing program and a better performance rewards program.

“In contrast, the AFA’s track record at other network carriers is not a good one. The AFA has demonstrated that its members have not been protected from pay cuts, job loss, pension termination or any other changes affecting the airline industry. And flight attendants at those other airlines also must pay hundreds of dollars per year in union dues.

“Delta has good momentum thanks to the hard work of all Delta people and we look forward to the ability to continue working on their behalf and responding to their feedback,” Smith continued.
An Associated Press article about the upcoming union election, published on Forbes.com and elsewhere, quoted Corey Caldwell, an AFA-CWA spokeswoman, who said Smith's statement is "typical, anti-union rhetoric that companies use."
"The truth is when there is a union on property, there's just as much communication with management as there was before," Caldwell said. "The only thing that changes is this time the flight attendants get to determine the issues and policies that affect them as a group instead of being dependent on the company to make decisions for them."
For further insight about what rank-and-file Delta flight attendants are thinking about the unionization issue, visit the Delta Voices page of the website opened by AFA to support the campaign by Delta flight attendants for unionization. There, dozens of Delta flight attendants have come forward publicly to share with their flying partners their reasons for supporting the move to unionize.

Should Delta's flight attendants succeed in their bid to unionize, they will be airline's the second major work group to have union representation. At the present time, only Delta's pilots are represented by a union; they are represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA).

Monday, March 17, 2008

Air New Zealand's Chinese cabin crew pay scandal

Air New Zealand Boeing 777-200ERAir New Zealand's Shanghai based cabin crew, who are Chinese nationals, are underpaid. In fact, that's an understatement. They are paid roughly one-quarter the salary of their Kiwi counterparts -- an amount that is less than the minimum wage in New Zealand. Why should Chinese cabin crew doing the same work, on the same aircraft, on the same route as New Zealanders, be paid less?

In addition to their salary, cabin crew are paid per diem allowances for time spent away from their home base. Air New Zealand's Chinese cabin crew earn a per diem allowance that is only one-third that paid to New Zealand nationals. Why are the Chinese cabin crew assumed to need less than New Zealanders to cover their meals and other expenses when they are overseas?

Keeping in mind that the Chinese cabin crew work alongside New Zealand crew members, doing identical work, this pay disparity is discrimination of the worst kind: Clearly, it is exploitation. New Zealand's government owns the majority of shares in its national carrier, making this situation even more scandalous to my mind.

Recent news stories about this situation, including one published a few days ago by the New Zealand Herald, recount further details.

NZ flight attendants have a starting base salary of at least $24,000 a year.

A source said crew also got $170 for each day they spent overseas, plus other flight allowances, which could add up to $15,000 a year.

The Chinese have an annual wage starting at $6240 and a daily away allowance of $55.

One Chinese air stewardess said her monthly base salary was $520 and she got an extra $4.30 for every hour of flight time. This totals much less than New Zealand's legal minimum wage of $11.25 an hour.
The carrier has attempted to excuse itself from responsibility by pointing out that the Chinese cabin crew are not direct employees of Air New Zealand; rather, they are employed through a Chinese staffing agency. Nevertheless, each reportedly has a New Zealand work permit, listing Air New Zealand as the employer. So then, why are they not paid according to the standard set for New Zealand employees?

Air New Zealand is not the only international air carrier engaging in this type of exploitation of Asian cabin crew members. For example, just last week I wrote about a trial, scheduled to take place today in Copenhagen, in which Scandinavian airline SAS is accused of having paid sub-standard wages to the 34 Chinese and 31 Japanese cabin crew hired since 2005. Those flight attendants were hired by SAS without Danish work permits, allowing the carrier to avoid paying them according to Danish standards. The feeble defense put forth by SAS, quoted in news articles, was that "the women were only in Danish air space for the few minutes it took to fly over the small Scandinavian country," and therefore were exempt from needing Danish work permits.

Rubbish. All of these kinds of cases boil down to carriers attempting to cut costs at the expense of their employees' welfare and dignity. We all know that, with fuel prices and other material costs soaring, these are tough times for the aviation industry, but any temporary economic advantage these companies gain by paying grossly substandard wages to certain employees based on their nationality is greatly overshadowed by human rights issues.

Since when is blatant exploitation good corporate policy? What has happened to the concept of equal pay for equal work?

[Photo Source]

Monday, March 10, 2008

Scandinavian airline SAS on trial over Asian cabin crew

SAS logoA recent article on Forbes.com, the business news website, reported that "Scandinavian airline SAS went on trial in Copenhagen for allegedly hiring Chinese and Japanese flight attendants without Danish work permits." The airline is said to have paid sub-standard wages to the 34 Chinese and 31 Japanese cabin crew hired since 2005.

The news article says:

The prosecution is calling for SAS to pay a fine of 2 mln dkr and for an additional 5 mln dkr it says the airline saved by paying the flight attendants sub-standard wages, to be confiscated from the company.

Following pressure from the unions, the Danish Ministry of Refugee, Immigration and Integration Affairs decided in 2006 to file suit against SAS, which is partially state-owned, for violating Danish labour laws.

SAS explained at the time that it needed the Asian air hostesses to attend to the needs of passengers flying between Europe and Asia, insisting that the women were only in Danish air space for the few minutes it took to fly over the small Scandinavian country.
I think the claim that the women were only briefly in Danish airspace is only a cover for the true issue: money. This sounds like just one more instance of a two-tiered pay scheme in which work is outsourced to 'foreign nationals' who are paid a lesser amount to do the same work as citizens of the carrier's home country. Last I knew, this was called exploitation.

The final day of the trial is scheduled for March 17, with a verdict expected about a week later, a judicial source told the news media.