WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) reintroduced a bill that targets the harmful trend of companies outsourcing labor to contractors and temp workers rather than hiring direct employees, a problem that is particularly pervasive in the airline industry. The Airline Accountability Act would require air carriers participating in the City Pair Program, which is used by federal employees to travel for work, to disclose labor violations from them or their subcontractors. Air carriers would be ineligible from participating in the City Pair Program if they are found to have repeated, willful, or serious labor infractions.
This reintroduction follows a roundtable Booker held with subcontracted workers at Newark airport last week. The workers are employed by Eulen America, a Spain-based contractor for American Airlines, Finnair, Qatar Airways, and other carriers, that is under investigation for multiple labor violations, including wage theft, discrimination, health and safety issues, and paid sick leave violations. On Monday, over 200 Eulen airport workers at JFK went on strike.
For years, the airline industry has increasingly outsourced its good-paying jobs, such as wheelchair attendants, baggage handlers, and cabin cleaners, to contractors, many of whom underpay workers and violate safety and labor laws. From 1991 to 2015, the proportion of air transport workers employed by airline contractors and subcontractors has soared from 16 percent to 31 percent. From 1991 to 2011, average weekly wages for air transport workers fell by 14 percent, and today, more than one-third of cleaning and baggage workers live in or near poverty.
Outsourcing also allows airlines to avoid liability and deflect responsibility for the labor violations committed by their contractors.
“Airlines are engaged in a pernicious ‘race to the bottom’ as they outsource vital functions of air travel, like cleaning airplanes and handling bags, to the lowest bidder,” Sen. Booker said. “The result is subcontracting firms that exploit their workers and retaliate when those workers protest or try to organize to demand fairer treatment. This is wholly unacceptable. There must be more federal oversight of companies committing these abuses and we need stricter safeguards in place to prevent abuse.”
“The increasing use of contract work by airlines is an alarming trend that drives down wages and workplace standards for all workers,” Sen. Brown said. “These jobs should be an opportunity for people to earn a fair wage and provide for their families – not an opportunity for airlines to drive down wages.”
In 2017, Booker and Brown wrote to nearly a dozen airline CEOs, including American Airlines, urging them to improve the pay and benefits of its subcontracted workers.
The Airline Accountability Act cracks down on airlines that display a callous disregard for the safety and rights of their workers. The bill leverages the multi-billion dollar air travel market by withholding contracts from airlines who disregard labor laws.
Specifically, the bill does to the following:
Dating back to his days as tenant lawyer, City Council member, and Mayor of Newark, Booker has been a leading voice for economic justice and the fundamental promise that if you work hard in America, America should work for you. As part of this commitment he has been a vocal advocate for fair pay and benefits for airport workers. Earlier this year, he sent a letter to Delta Airlines, criticizing the company for its anti-union tactics. He was also a key partner in successfully pushing the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to raise the minimum wage for workers at airports under its jurisdiction to $19 an hour by 2023. He formally wrote the Port Authority in 2017 urging them to make the change and joined airport workers for a rally in January 2018 to advance the cause.