United MEC Government Affairs Committee Update

Date: February 1, 2012
Type: Report


Over the past several years, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA has been pressuring Congress and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to address the problem of Flight Attendant fatigue. As Flight Attendants work longer duty days and more hours in a month, with reduced rest periods and often little time for meals, the problem of Flight Attendant fatigue has become chronic and pervasive in the industry. It is not only unhealthy for Flight Attendants; it jeopardizes our ability to fulfill our safety and security roles compromising aviation safety and security.

Through our ongoing efforts to find a solution to the problem, AFA-CWA has gained many allies in Congress who also recognize that Flight Attendant fatigue is a serious problem. Given the direct role that Flight Attendants play in passenger safety, AFA-CWA Flight Attendant activists urged the U.S. Congress to call for a comprehensive examination of Flight Attendant fatigue. In an era of heightened security and the need for constant vigilance, our friends in Congress understand that Flight Attendants cannot afford to be exhausted on the job.

In 2004, AFA-CWA was instrumental in securing funds for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI) to conduct a study of Flight Attendant fatigue. Congress directed that a study should be finalized and submitted to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations no later than June 1, 2005, including the agency’s recommendations on potential regulatory revisions. Researchers from CAMI determined that further study was needed, so additional funds were appropriated in 2007 for CAMI to conduct additional multi-level studies.

CAMI researchers issued their final report in December 2010, concluding that fatigue is a pervasive condition across the Flight Attendant community and supporting the goal of reducing Flight Attendant fatigue. In the 111th Congress AFA-CWA was able to include a provision addressing a rulemaking on Flight Attendant fatigue in the FAA reauthorization bill. Unfortunately, we were unable to get this provision included in the FAA reauthorization bill written for the 112th Congress.

Pilot Fatigue Addressed

On December 21, 2011, the FAA announced the long-awaited rulemaking Pilot Duty and Rest Requirements that addresses pilot fatigue. One of the key components in the rule includes an increased rest period of 10 hours that may not be reduced. The Pilot Fatigue Rulemaking was included in an extension to the FAA reauthorization and will take effect in two years to allow airlines time to transition.

AFA-CWA believes that now that the pilot rule is done, it is imperative that the FAA initiate rulemaking to address Flight Attendant fatigue. As the FAA states in the pilot final rule, its incremental approach contemplates “future rulemaking initiatives [that] may address fatigue concerns related to flight attendants, maintenance personnel, and dispatchers.” There is a sound, scientific basis to protect Flight Attendants from fatigue.

Flight Attendant Fatigue Legislation Introduced

Representative Mazie Hirono (D-HI) has introduced legislation, The Airline First Responder Workplace Fairness Act, H.R. 3824, that would establish a Flight Attendant Duty Time Limitations and Rest Requirements Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) to address the issue of Flight Attendant fatigue. The ARC would review current Flight Attendant duty and rest regulations, review the CAMI studies along with other scientific data and issue recommendations to the FAA Administrator.

This bill has the bipartisan support of the following cosponsors: David McKinley (R-WV), Robert Brady (D-PA), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Tim Bishop (D-NY), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Ed Pastor (D-AZ).

AFA-CWA Members lobbied this issue while we were on the Hill during the CWA Legislative Political Conference. It is now time to do a full grassroots push. Our goal is a minimum of 218 cosponsors so we can request that this bill be considered for a vote.


Earlier this month, and against the objections of 19 Unions, representing over 10 million workers, Congress passed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Conference Report. The FAA Reauthorization Conference Report was long awaited, much needed legislation addressing the operations of the FAA. Unfortunately, this very good bill contained a sneak attack on the collective bargaining and organizing rights of aviation and railroad workers.

On February 3, 2012, the U.S. House of Representatives agreed to the FAA Reauthorization Conference Report by a vote of 248-169. The Senate agreed to the measure on February 6, 2012 by a vote of 75-20. After our intense lobby efforts urging members of Congress to pass a clean FAA reauthorization bill, 157 House Democrats and 15 Senate Democrats voted against the measure which contained a controversial labor provision which was a sneak attack on workers’ rights.

We learned through our lobby visits that those Republicans who opposed the bill were not opposed to the anti-labor provisions in the bill. Rather, they opposed the bill because of the funding provisions included in the bill.

Although President Obama was aware of our position, he quietly signed the legislation into law. It was nearly impossible for him to veto this “jobs” bill. Anti-worker ideologues knew exactly what they were doing when they negotiated away one anti-labor provision for another even more egregious provision. And even if the President did veto the bill, there were not enough votes to have the veto overridden.

While we lost the final vote, the fact that we secured an overwhelming majority of House Democrats and 15 Senators to oppose the bill should be considered a victory.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), understood how the language was an attack on workers rights. On the floor of the Senate, before the vote, he said, "My vote is to stand up against the notion that a federal agency and the American workers it is charged to protect should be punished for doing what is right, what is fair, what is within their jurisdiction, and to stand up against a process that allows the few and the powerful to hijack this body, to change the rule of the game in their favor."

Members of the United MEC and United Flight Attendant activists around the world should be praised for an incredible job of urging their members of Congress and the Congressional leadership to vote against the FAA Reauthorization Conference Report. We mobilized a tremendous response to this back room deal between Senate and House leadership. However, our efforts to block passage of the FAA bill were thwarted when both House and Senate leadership expedited the votes.

We now need to focus our attention on what we can do to change the statute that was included in the FAA bill. That means calling on our friends who stood with us to fight this provision and working every day between now and November 6, 2012 to help them get re-elected.

The final FAA reauthorization bill does include some AFA supported provisions. These include:

  • Clarification of Memorandum of Understanding with OSHA: A provision requiring the FAA to work with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to establish milestones for the completion of work under the 2000 memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the agencies and develop a policy statement to set circumstances under which OSHA requirements may be applied to crewmembers.
  • Study of Air Quality in Aircraft Cabins: A provision requiring the FAA Administrator to initiate a study of air quality in aircraft cabins that includes an assessment of bleed air quality, identification of potential health risks to individuals exposed to toxic fumes and development of a systematic reporting standard for smoke and fume events on aircraft cabins.
  • Cabin Crew Communications: This provision mandates a minimum level of English language skills for Flight Attendants to guarantee adequate capability in performing duties in response to an inflight safety or security emergency.
  • Smoking Prohibition on Charter Flights
  • Pesticide Application Notification
  • Development of Human Intervention Management Study (HIMS): This provision directs the FAA to provide Flight Attendants the ability to participate in existing programs to address substance abuse concerns.


Over 700 CWA and AFA activists attended the CWA Legislative Political Conference in Washington, D.C. on January 31-February 2, 2012. We heard presentations about voter suppression, the abuse of corporate money in politics, senate rules and making democracy work, economic justice, workers rights and ending the offshoring of jobs. Larry Cohen, CWA President and Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO President gave rousing speeches about how Unions are confronting the attacks on working families and how important the upcoming November 2012 elections will be.

Congressional speakers included Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Representatives Donna Edwards (D-MD), Joe Baca (D-CA), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and Tim Bishop (D-NY).

Vice President Joe Biden did an incredible job as keynote speaker and addressed the conference for almost one hour before the conference adjourned. Forty years ago CWA was the first Union to endorse 29-year old Biden when he was running for a U.S. Senate seat in Delaware. Vice President Biden thanked CWA members for their continued support through the years.



On the issues critical to our Members, the gulf between President Obama and the Republican contenders is wider than it has ever been.   As a result, the AFA-CWA Board of Directors unanimously passed a resolution in support of the Re-Election of President Barack Obama. 

The resolution emphasized the need for AFA-CWA Members and leadership to work to re-elect President Obama and to elect members of Congress who support Flight Attendants and the growing movement to restore democracy in the United States.


The United Master Executive Council and the AFA-CWA Board of Directors unanimously passed a resolution in support of United AFA-CWA Local Council 8 Member, Alex Arroyo, who is running for State Representative in the 84th District of Illinois.

Alex has also been endorsed by the Illinois State Federation of Labor. Alex is facing two primary challengers. The Illinois State Primary is March 20, 2012.


The Political/Legislative Policy is one of the Continuing Committees of the AFA-CWA Board of Directors charged with the responsibility for ongoing study of matters relating to AFA-CWA’s political and legislative program. It is comprised of four Members and one alternate. United MEC Government Affairs Chair Debbie Golombek ’s name was submitted to be a Member of this Committee and has been approved by the Board of Directors for the term January 1/2013-12/31/2014. As a result of all the work that needs to be done for Election 2012, Debbie has already started working with current Committee.

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