Stogner McDavid: Obama should stand up for U.S. airline jobs

Obama should stand up for U.S. airline jobs

Originally published in The Houston Chronicle 
Author: Ginny Stogner McDavid

Dec 7, 2016 - Last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation approved a permit for Norwegian Air International (NAI) to start flying between the U.S. and Europe. The approval got very little fanfare in the media, as other news took center stage. But those of us in the U.S. aviation industry took notice, and we're not happy.

NAI, a subsidiary of a Norwegian Air Shuttle, has headquartered its operations in Ireland to take advantage of lower labor standards - avoiding U.S. and Norwegian labor laws. This business model, known as "flags of convenience," will allow NAI to hire crews from countries with the lowest labor and safety standards, such as Malaysia or Thailand. So where's the "Norway" part of this airline? Good question. The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, Air Line Pilots Association, International Association of Machinists, Transport Workers Union, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, other U.S. and European labor groups, U.S. and European passenger carriers, and more than 200 bipartisan members of Congress fought to put a stop to this.

Failing to enforce the Open Skies Agreements will result in dire consequences for the U.S. economy

NAI is following a business model that decimated the U.S. shipping industry. U.S. shipping companies were forced out of the market and more than. 97,000 U.S. jobs were destroyed. We are looking potentially at a similar result for U.S. aviation jobs. In 2010, the Obama Administration negotiated the US-EU Open Skies Agreement, Article 17 bis, detailing strict labor standards required for the U.S. and European carriers. Put simply, NAI is in violation of Article 17 bis by trying to avoid labor standards in various countries. And it's not just hundreds of thousands of aviation employees in the U.S. who have something at stake here. American travelers do as well - who may one day find themselves with fewer options for travel to Europe and elsewhere once Norwegian and other "flags of convenience" have driven U.S. carriers out of the market.

The Obama administration must enforce the only labor standard ever negotiated in an Open Skies agreement. If the DOT can't recognize its folly to correct this, then Congress should act fast and require the Department to enforce its commitments. In April of this year, Congressmen Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., and Rick Larsen, D-Wash., introduced a bipartisan bill (HR 5090) that would prohibit the Secretary of Transportation from allowing an airline to fly between the U.S. and Europe unless the Secretary specifically finds that the airline's business practices are consistent with the U.S.-E.U. Open Skies agreement's labor protections. With the 114th Congress adjourning on Thursday, they need to act fast to right this horrible wrong.

The 2016 elections should have been a wake-up call to politicians on both sides of the aisle that American workers are angry about the loss of their jobs overseas to greedy corporations. President Barack Obama shouldn't be the cause of the destruction to the U.S. aviation industry. Labor has stood behind him. Now he must stand up for working people.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership failed because organized labor engaged its membership to pressure Congress, on both sides of the aisle, to stand up for fair labor and safety standards. We stand resolved to demand the same in every trade agreement going forward. The administration and Congress must also enforce labor and safety standards already negotiated in Open Skies Agreements. Failing to enforce these trade agreements will result in dire consequences for the U.S. economy and communities all over the country. Let's hope that President Obama chooses to do the right thing during his final days in office.

Stogner McDavid is the first woman president of the Harris County AFL-CIO Labor Assembly. A 26-year flight attendant for Continental and now United Airlines, she is also active in the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.

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