United MEC Government Affairs Committee Update

Date: April 15, 2014
Type: Report


Today, one of the biggest threats to our jobs and collective bargaining is the Norwegian Air International's (NAI) pending application before the Department of Transportation (DOT) for a foreign air carrier permit and exemption authority to operate from Europe to points in the United States.  The Irish government has granted approval for NAI to operate as a "flag of convenience" airline based in Ireland but with no service out of any airport in Ireland.  This gives NAI the ability to sidestep existing labor and social laws in Norway. 

NAI plans to utilize non-union pilots and cabin crew to work under individual employment contracts that contain wages and working conditions substantially inferior to those of NAI's Norway-based crews.  The contracts will be with employment companies that will "rent" the crew to NAI. 

If NAI succeeds in labor law shopping, choosing where it does business based on an advantageous legal or regulatory environment, the company will have an enormous unfair economic advantage over U.S. airlines, threatening our international long-haul flying and setting a harmful precedent that would undermine U.S. labor and safety rules.  By gaming the system, NAI would drive U.S. carriers out of the competition. 

For the past few months we have been working on a number of fronts to increase awareness and to stop this threat.  In early March, the Government Affairs Committee made calls urging U.S. Senators to sign a letter to DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx, circulated by Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) , in opposition to NAI's request for the foreign air carrier permit.  The letter was signed by the following  Senators:  Schatz (HI), Blunt (MO), Rockefeller (WV), Baldwin (WI), Begich (AK), Bennet (CO), Booker (NJ), Boxer (CA), Brown (OH), Cantwell(WA), Durbin (IL), Feinstein (CA), Franken (MN), Gillibrand (NY),  Harkin (IA), Hirono (HI), Klobuchar (MN),  Landrieu (LA), Levin (MI), Manchin (WV), Markey (MA), McCaskill (MO), Menendez (NJ), Merkley (OR),  Moran (KS), Murray (WA), Pryor (AR), Reed (RI), Schumer (NY), Shaheen (NH), Stabenow (MI), Tester (MT), Warner (VA), Warren (MA) and Whitehouse (RI). 

You can also help protect our jobs by taking the following steps:   

  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. 

Additional Background:  The "flag of convenience" business practice has undermined the U.S. maritime industry by allowing a vessel to be registered in a country different from its ownership and applying the country of registry's laws to its operations.

Not only is NAI's application a threat to our jobs, it conflicts with the terms of the U.S. aviation statutes and the U.S. air services agreement with the European Union.   Under the U.S. Code, the U.S. Department of Transportation is charged with encouraging "fair wages and working conditions" and "strengthening the competitive position of [US] air carriers to at least ensure equality with foreign air carriers."  NAI's business scheme does not allow U.S. carriers fair and equal competition. 

The U.S. – E.U. air transport agreement makes clear that the opportunities made available under the agreement are not to be used to reduce labor standards. It is clear that NAI's model is an effort to avoid Norwegian labor laws and is therefore inconsistent with the U.S. –E.U. air transport agreement.

On April 1, twenty-one Unions joined AFA in the escalating debate about the future of international air travel by signing a TTD letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx urging him to reject NAI's application.  The letter stated that if this flag of convenience scheme is approved, it will set a precedent for other foreign air carriers to exploit and follow.


New legislation to keep knives on the TSA's Prohibited Items List has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.  The Keep Knives Out of Our Skies Act, H.R. 4368 is a companion bill to Senate bill S. 1008, the Keep Knives Out of Our Skies Act that was introduced in the Senate last year.   This bipartisan legislation was introduced by Representatives Michael Grimm (R-NY), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), David Joyce (R-OH) and Dan Lipinski (D-IL).   These are the only sponsors/cosponsors to date. 

After leading the fight to reverse the TSA's decisions to allow knives back onboard the aircraft, we now need to ensure that knives are permanently banned by law.  The Keep Knives Out of Our Skies Act would prohibit the Secretary of Homeland Security from implementing proposed policy changes that would permit passengers to carry small, non-locking knives on aircraft.

We should reach out to U.S. House offices to cosponsor H.R. 4368 and continue to call on Senate offices to cosponsor S. 1008.  An AFA Interactive went out last week encouraging Flight Attendants to call their U.S. Senators and Representative to cosponsor these bills.  Your calls and/or e-mails to the appropriate staff will be paramount to ensuring that knives are kept on the prohibited items list permanently and that Congress acts on this critical legislation. 

Senate sponsors/cosponsors on S. 1008 include Senators Charles Schumer (NY), Robert Menendez (NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY),the late Frank Lautenberg (NJ),  Lisa Murkowski (AK), Ed Markey (MA), Brian Schatz (HI) and Mazie Hirono (HI). 


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 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 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 (CT), Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Mark Begich (AK),  Brian Schatz (HI) and Mazie Hirono (HI)

                                        *****TAKE ACTION *****

Please call each of your two Senators and ask to speak to the legislative assistant who handles aviation issues.  Your message should be: 

"As a constituent and a member of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, I am concerned about cell phone use inflight.  The aircraft cabin is no place for cell phone conversations, and the use of cell phones for voice calls poses a risk to safety and security.  As the last line of defense in our nation's aviation system, Flight Attendants understand the importance of maintaining a calm cabin environment and passengers agree. 

I urge Senator __________ to cosponsor the bipartisan Commercial Flight Courtesy Act, Senate bill number S. 1811 to help keep peace in the aircraft cabin." 

Both your Representatives and your two senators can be reached through the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at 202.224.3121. 


The U.S. Trade Representative is negotiating a bilateral free trade agreement with the European Union (EU) known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).  The EU has indicated that it intends to include air transport services in this trade agreement, including cabotage rights and changes to our foreign ownership and control laws. 

The United States has the largest domestic traffic market of any country.  Allowing foreign air carriers to conduct cabotage operations (the transport of local traffic between two points in the same country) with workers who are subject to the labor laws of that company's home country, threatens our jobs and our collective bargaining power. 

Cabotage is prohibited by U.S. aviation regulations, and AFA-CWA has strongly opposed efforts to modify those statutes. 


Last year, 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 57 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 has 7 cosponsors.

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. 

It was no consolation for Flight Attendants that the former Member of Congress from Texas, who denied Flight Attendants mandatory, comprehensive security training, was later convicted of money laundering and conspiracy charges related to illegal finance activities. 

Crewmember situational awareness and appropriate crew-based training programs are essential factors in the success of a multilayered approach to aviation security.  AFA remains committed to full implementation of secondary barrier systems combined with self-defense and situation awareness training for crewmembers and fatigue awareness recognition for Flight Attendants.   


Since we began Phase Two of letter writing to Congress, via e-mail, in support of the 685, we have received copies of several disappointing replies from some Senate and House offices.  In most cases we have been able to follow-up with the staff to correct the inaccuracies in their responses.  In some cases we encouraged the Flight Attendant to call the office and relay their personal story to the staff member. 

Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) has written to Jeff Smisek and we are waiting to learn of United's response to her letter.   Representative Speier has one of the largest number of United Flight Attendants in her District. 

We would also like to acknowledge Council 12 Member, Jason Brock, for posting a petition online through Change.Org regarding the merger and the furlough situation.  The petition has received over 9000 signatures.   Although we learned during our training that petitions carry little weight in most Congressional offices, we have encouraged Jason to send his petition to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.    


The recent Supreme Court ruling in McCutcheon v FEC dealt a huge blow to our already fragile campaign finance system, making it easier than ever for big money donors and special interests to buy our elections.   The super-rich will join big corporations in using their unlimited funds to pressure elected officials for special access, policy agendas and tax breaks and to flood the airwaves with those anonymous political messages that we all dislike.   

By a 5-4 decision the Roberts Court struck down aggregate contribution limits equating campaign contributions to free speech.  This should be a wake-up call for all of us, as it highlights the importance of keeping the majority in the U.S. Senate in the upcoming 2014 mid-term elections. 

Taken together, the Supreme Court's Citizen United and McCutcheon decisions have effectively put our election system up for sale to the highest bidder and given the wealthiest Americans an advantage to influence our democracy.  Washington can take steps to strengthen our campaign finance system and curtail the disastrous effects of big money in politics. 

During the April congressional recess (April 12- April 27) CWA is organizing in-district meetings and other activities to highlight our broken political system and the need to enact the Government By The People Act.  Representative John Sarbanes (D-MD) recently introduced the Government by the People Act, H.R. 20, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and over 130 cosponsors which increases the power of small contributions that regular Americans can afford to give to political campaigns and incentivizes candidates to reach out to grassroots supporters.   

Now is the time for Congress to stand up for a nation by and for the people, not one bought and sold by the ultra-wealthy and mega-corporations ….  By the people not buy the Congress. 

We can bury our heads in the sand and believe that these Supreme Court decisions do not affect us or our Membership or we can be proactive and participate. For more information, go to www.moneyout-votersin.org.  


Please continue to contact your members of Congress to oppose Fast Track and the ultra-dangerous Trans Pacific Partnership agreement that is being negotiated by the U.S. Trade Representative in almost complete secrecy. 


Legislation has been introduced in the California State Assembly to promote family friendly accommodations at California airports.   AB 1787 would require airports in CA to provide appropriate space for nursing mothers to express milk.  Council 11 has written to the CA Assembly in support of this legislation. 

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