United MEC Government Affairs Committee Update

Date: February 14, 2014
Type: Report


This past week the United MEC Government Affairs Committee Chair and Vice Chair held training and lobby days in Washington, D.C. February 17-19.   We had 15 participants at the training including Local Council Leadership, Local Committee Chairs and Members from eight Local Councils: LHR, DEN, SFO, LAX, HNL, DCA, BOS, and IAH, as well as MEC Membership Engagement Chair.

The training included a working dinner Tuesday night where we heard from Republican and Democratic Congressional staff members on their views for successful lobbying and building relationships with members of Congress and their staff.  We were joined at dinner by AFA-CWA International President Veda Shook and Vice President Sara Nelson. 

After a welcome from our International President and International Secretary-Treasurer the topics we covered included the significance of grassroots lobbying, the legislative landscape on Capitol Hill, building coalitions with our local labor communities, the importance of FlightPAC and our legislative achievements, how to lobby review and communicating with Congress.  Steve Schembs gave a thorough review of AFA-CWA's legislative agenda and then we discussed our lobby issues, including the situation of the involuntary furlough at subsidiary-United. 

During our lobby visits we were able to meet with Senate offices from California, Washington, Colorado, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, Florida, Vermont and Virginia.  In addition we were able to deliver packets of letters signed by United Flight Attendants in support of the "685" to dozens of other Senate offices.  

On Wednesday morning we hit the Hill early for our House lobby visits.  During lunch we held a debriefing. 


Our lobby efforts on the involuntary furlough at subsidiary-United and support for the "685" went extremely well.   Senate and House offices in our hub locations and members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee were particularly interested in the issue. 
We were questioned about "numbers of Flight Attendants in each state who were affected" information we did not have, and length of lay-offs, health care benefits and differences in pay. 


Last December, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair, Bill Shuster (R-PA) and U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) as the lead Democratic cosponsor introduced legislation to prohibit the use of cell phones for voice communications only during the in-flight portion of a domestic flight.  The bill contains exemptions from the ban for on-duty members of the flight and cabin crews and federal law enforcement personnel acting in an official capacity. 

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 the bill in the legislative process.  Below are remarks from the lead sponsor and cosponsor of the bill.

"This bill is simple.  When it comes to cell phones on planes, tap, don't talk," Shuster said.  "Airplane cabins are by nature noisy, crowded, and confined. In our day-to-day lives, when we find someone's cell phone call to be too loud, too close, or too personal, we can just walk away. But at 30,000 feet, there's nowhere else for an airline passenger to go.  Under this bill, passengers will be able to use their mobile devices to stay connected, through getting online, emailing, texting, and more.  During flights, it is common sense and common courtesy to continue keeping cell phone calls on the ground."

"The American public has made it overwhelmingly clear that they do not want to be subjected to annoying cell phone conversations while stuck on an airplane," said DeFazio.  "I joined Chairman Shuster's bipartisan bill because I believe we should do what we can to protect consumers and ensure safety on all flights.  Today's passage will help preserve passenger sanity."


Transportation labor and U.S. airlines are in agreement against a scheme by Norwegian Air International (NAI) to expand air service from Europe to the United States using cockpit and cabin crew based in Thailand and working under the lower standard labor laws of countries such as Singapore.  This flag of convenience low-road business model threatens our jobs and the high aviation standards of the United States (US) and the European Union (EU).   It also violates the U.S. – E.U. Open Skies Agreement.

The NAI issue was brought up by staff in several offices we visited and every office that mentioned the NAI was solidly in support of our position. If NAI succeeds in "labor law shopping" choosing where it does business based on an advantageous legal and regulatory environment, NAI will yield an enormous economic advantage over U.S. airlines, making it more difficult for U.S. airlines and their employees to compete for long haul international passengers'' business.   


The CWA Telephone Town Hall call on Thursday, February 20, highlighted the importance of getting the huge sums of dark and secret corporate money out of our politics and leveling the playing field for grassroots supported candidates.  Those on the call heard from Representative John Sarbanes (D-MD) who recently introduced the Government by the People Act, H.R. 20, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and over 130 cosponsors. 

As we all know, our democracy is broken.  Special interests and big money donors dominate the political landscape at the federal, state and local levels.  By increasing the power of small contributions that regular Americans can afford to give and incentivizing candidates to reach out to grassroots supporters, we can return our democracy to once again be Of, By and For the People.  

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