United MEC Government Affairs Committee Update

Date: July 31, 2014
Type: Report

In 2005, and again in 2013, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) tried to make changes to the Prohibited Items List to allow knives back onboard the aircraft.  Through our collective action and with the help of our Congressional allies, we forced the TSA to reverse their decision, both times.  Unfortunately, our work is not done.  We know that the only way we can guarantee that knives will never be allowed back onboard our aircraft is through a permanent legislative ban.   

Legislation has been introduced in both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives that would prohibit the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from implementing any proposed policy changes that would permit passengers to carry knives onboard aircraft.

The Keep Knives Out of Our Skies Act, S. 1008, was introduced in the Senate on May 22, 2013 as bipartisan legislation by Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY), the late Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).  Additional cosponsors include Senators Ed Markey (D-MA), Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI). 

The Keep Knives Out of Our Skies Act, H.R. 4368, was introduced in the House on April 7, 2014 as bipartisan legislation by Representatives Michael Grimm (R-NY) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) as companion legislation to the Senate bill. Additional cosponsors include Representatives David Joyce (R-OH), Dan Lipinski (D-IL) and Jackie Speier (D-CA). 

A similar bill, The No Knives Act, H.R. 1093 was introduced on March 26, 2013 by Representatives Ed Markey (D-MA) (Ed Markey has since been elected to the U.S. Senate) and Michael Grimm (R-NY).  This bill had 64 cosponsors; however, the language was too restrictive.  H.R. 4368 which is an identical bill to S. 1008 was then introduced. 

Building congressional cosponsor support for S. 1008 and H.R. 4368 must remain a top priority. 

On December 9, 2013, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and senior committee member Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) introduced the Prohibiting In-Flight Voice Communications on Mobile Wireless Devices Act of 2013, H.R. 3676 in the wake of the FCC’s announced plans to review the current ban on inflight cell phone calls. 

H.R. 3676 directs the Secretary of Transportation (DOT) to issue regulations prohibiting an individual on an aircraft from engaging in voice communications using a mobile device inflight.  The legislation does exempt on-duty flight crews, Flight Attendants and federal law enforcement officers acting in an official capacity.  The bill has 33 cosponsors.  The list of cosponsors can be found at www.congress.gov 

The Prohibiting In-Flight Voice Communications on Wireless Devices Act of 2013, H.R. 3676, was approved by a voice vote during a Mark-Up of the bill in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on February 11, 2014.  This is an important first step for this legislation as it moves through the legislative process.  H.R. 3676 was reported and placed on the House calendar for a vote at a later date, so no new cosponsors can be added to this bill but we still need to build our cosponsors on the Senate bill (see below). 

In the Senate:

On December 12, 2013, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced legislation to prohibit cell phone conversations on commercial airline flights.  The bipartisan Commercial Flight Courtesy Act, S. 1811, would prohibit voice communications through mobile communication devices on regularly scheduled commercial passenger flights.   Cosponsors include Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Mark Begich (D-AK), Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI).  

Background:  Norwegian Airlines is the third largest “ultra” low cost European carrier and operates several companies flying under the Norwegian brand; Norwegian Air Shuttle (NAS), Norwegian Long Haul (NLH) and Norwegian Air International (NAI).  The parent company, Norwegian Air Shuttle (NAS), is a Norwegian company headquartered in Oslo and has a fleet of 737 aircraft and primarily flies throughout Scandinavia, Europe.  The company has a Norwegian Air Operating Certificate (AOC).  At NAS the workers are employees of Norwegian, have a seniority list and are represented by Parat, the largest aviation workers’ labor federation in Norway.  

Norwegian has two long-haul companies: Norwegian Long Haul (NLH) and Norwegian Air International (NAI), which utilize 787 aircraft to fly between Scandinavia, Europe, Asia and the United States.  Norwegian Long Haul (NLH) holds a Norwegian AOC. However, their aircraft are registered in Ireland.  Norwegian law permits an AOC holder to operate an aircraft registered in a foreign country for a limited period of time.  Norwegian can hire and utilize foreign workers, without obtaining Norwegian work permits by flagging their aircraft in Ireland. NLH currently flies to the United States under the US/Norwegian Air Transport Agreement (ATA) – more commonly referred to as an open skies agreement.

Norwegian Air International (NAI) is an Irish company, with an Irish AOC.  The NAI aircraft are registered in Ireland. The Norwegian government has no oversight over NAI. NAI doesn’t employee any flight crews, instead it uses a staffing company to hire and train non-union crewmembers, with little or no benefits.   NAI currently operates flights between Scandinavia, Europe and Asia. NAI’s goal is to provide service to the US under a provision in the broader EU/US Open Skies Agreement – thereby circumventing the US/Norwegian ATA.

Threat To Our Jobs and Our Transatlantic Flying:  NAI has applied for a foreign air carrier permit to operate flights to the United States. If the Department of Transportation (DOT) approves the application for service, NLH will likely be merged to the Irish AOC and cease to exist.  The NAI application to fly to the US is under review by the US DOT. In addition, the NAI has also applied for an exemption authority. The exemption would allow NAI to initiate service to the US without them receiving a foreign air carrier permit.

AFA opposes the NAI application to fly to the US because the Norwegian model, creating a new Irish company for the purpose of flying to the US as part the EU-US open skies agreement, violates Article 17 bis EU-US Open Skies.  NAI has hired Asian and US crews to lower their operational cost below what they would have to pay if they were to continue to operate under the Norwegian AOC.

AFA has been working closely with allies such as ALPA, ITF/ETF, Parat, and TTD to put pressure on the US Government urging them to deny the NAI Application.  NAI was created for the sole purpose of circumventing Norwegian labor laws and therefore amounts to social dumping of corporate responsibility. If DOT allows NAI to set up a “flag of convenience” business model it will put downward pressure on US carriers to lower labor costs on transatlantic operations in order to compete with this new “ultra” low cost carrier model.

This is an uphill battle.  While many members of Congress, from all sides of the aisle, have been responsive and have spoken out against DOT approval of the NAI application, the White House has not responded favorably. 

Currently a delegation from the US State Department and the US Department of Transportation are meeting with the European Commission in Belgium.  The meeting is at the request of the European Union to explain their views on Article 17 bis of the US-EU Open Skies Agreement. The European Commission hopes to nudge the DOT to issue a favorable outcome for NAI OR to extend an exemption. 

Actions Taken:  Over the past several months, our Government Affairs Committees have been working on a number of fronts to increase awareness and to stop this threat. Several Congressional sign-on letters were sent to the DOT urging that the NAI application be rejected.   The AFA International Office filed comments under the DOT rulemaking and has met with DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx to call attention to our filed comments.  

Most recently (July 17), Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Dan Coats (R-IN) circulated a Dear Colleague letter to bring attention to an op-ed piece written by former Department of Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood (attached).  In the article titled “Many Questions Still Unanswered about Norwegian Air’s Impact on Fair Competition”, he says fair competition is one of the founding principles of Open Skies. During his tenure at DOT, LaHood oversaw the signing of Open Skies agreements with 16 different countries. 

Take Action Today:

1)    Sign A Petition.  Tell the Obama Administration to defend U.S. airlines and U.S. airline workers by signing the petition on ALPA’s website  http://takeaction.alpa.org

2)    Post on Twitter:  Tell the #Obama Administration #denyNAI’s dangerous application to fly in the U.S. & defend U.S. airlines and #US jobs

3)    Spread the word on Facebook:  Join the fight!  Tell the Obama Administration to defend US airlines and airline jobs on your Facebook page.  

On July 10, 2014, Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Al Franken (D-MN) introduced legislation to curb abuses that deprive employees and retirees of their earnings and retirement savings when businesses collapse.  The Protecting Employees and Retirees in Business Bankruptcies Act of 2014, S. 2589, would make several changes to Chapter 11 bankruptcy law, putting workers’ interests near the top when companies file for bankruptcy. 

The bill would improve recoveries for employees and retirees, reduce employee and retiree losses and restrict excessive executive compensation programs.  

A companion measure, The Protecting Employees and Retirees in Business Bankruptcies Act of 2013, H.R. 100, was introduced at the beginning of the 113th Congress, January 25, 2013, by Representative John Conyers (D-MI) the Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee.  H.R. 100 has 13 cosponsors including:  Representatives Steve Cohen (D-TN), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Hank Johnson (D-GA), former Representative Mel Watt (D-NC), George Miller (D-CA),  Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), Linda Sanchez (D-CA), John Dingell (D-MI),  Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Barbara Le (D-CA), Karen Bass (D-CA) and Eric Swalwell (D-CA). 

AFA Members should contact their two U.S. Senators and their U.S.  Representative to cosponsor S. 2589 and H.R. 100, respectively, if they are not already cosponsors.    

On April 26, 2013, Representative Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA) introduced legislation to require secondary cockpit safety barriers on all Part 121 airliners.  The Saracini Aviation Safety Act, H.R. 1775, was introduced in honor of Victor Saracini, Captain of United 175.  Representative Fitzpatrick became interested in this issue when he learned that United was removing secondary barriers from its Boeing 787’s.   Ellen Saracini, the widow of Captain Saracini, has put a tremendous amount of time and energy lobbying on this important bill, which now has 60 cosponsors.    

A Senate companion bill, the Saracini Aviation Safety Act of 2013, S. 1495, was introduced by Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) on September 11, 2013.  S. 1495’s  cosponsors include Senators Toomey (R-PA), Boxer (D-CA), Warren (D-MA), Feinstein (D-CA), Markey (D-MA), Johanns (R-NE), Blumenthal (D-CT), Franken (D-MN) and Mikulski (D-MD).    

AFA is fully committed to and has repeatedly supported multilayered approaches to making our skies safer including measures like reinforced cockpit doors, secondary barriers and enhanced self-defense and situational awareness training for Flight Attendants.  

While Congress has repeatedly recognized the need for Flight Attendant self-defense training, our efforts have been thwarted by certain airlines.  In a last minute revision to the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2003, the wording in a provision for basic, mandated self-defense security training was changed from the TSA “shall” issue these guidelines to the TSA “may” issue these guidelines.  By changing this one word, the Congressional mandate to issue industry-wide guidelines was eliminated. 

AFA Members should contact their two U.S. Senators and their U.S.  Representative to cosponsor S. 1495 and H.R. 1775, respectively, if they are not already cosponsors.  

“AFA Votes” postcards were mailed to all AFA members the week of July 4 to remind Flight Attendants about the upcoming Midterm Election on November 4, 2014.  With the enactment of strict voter ID laws, many states have begun to purge voter registration lists.  Flight Attendants should be encouraged to check the status of their voter registration at www.canivote.org a non-partisan site maintained by the National Association of Secretaries of State. 

Over the past several months our Government Affairs Committee has grown.  We would like to welcome (and send a long-overdue welcome) to:  Council 9 Government Affairs Chair, Ashley Nelson; Council 14 Government Affairs Chair/Co-Chair Trudy Wong and Sue Lynn Sakata; Council 25 Government Affairs Chair Laura Harsh; and Council 42 Government Affairs Chair Lois Johnson and Committee Members Shelley Eatmon, Kimberly Hudson, Terranze Clark, and Tecora White. 

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