United Airlines And Unions Fly Through Sham Attacks On Labor To Help Out In Puerto Rico

United Airlines And Unions Fly Through Sham Attacks On Labor To Help Out In Puerto Rico

Originally published: Forbes by Ted Reed

Last week a United Boeing 777-300 flew from Newark to San Juan, carrying the assistance that Puerto Rico needs most after Hurricane Maria.  Not just supplies, but 300 workers from 20 unions, all willing to work free to help the island rebuild.

Most volunteered to spend two weeks sleeping on cots in the Roberto Clemente Coliseum and working all day – clearing roads, caring for patients, delivering supplies and restoring power and communications.

The Boeing 777-300 is one of United’s newest aircraft. Besides bringing in workers, it brought in 35,000 pounds of supplies including food, water and essential equipment, and it carried out evacuees at no charge.

United, like several other carriers, has flown supplies in to San Juan nearly every day since the airport reopened after Maria struck.

Ironically, the flight came at a time when politicians including President Trump and Sen. John McCain (R.-Arizona) have been attacking the Jones Act, approved by Congress in 1920. The act requires that goods transported between U.S. ports be carried on ships built in the U.S, with U.S. owners and U.S. crews.

Trump waived the act for Puerto Rico and McCain wants to permanently exempt Puerto Rico from its protections.

“There has been a lot of talk about waiving the Jones Act and it’s not making sense to me,” said Todd Insler, chairman of the United chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association and one of the key organizers of the United flight.

“People in government say they want to waive the Jones act because it prevents getting supplies into Puerto Rico,” Insler said. “But the problem is not getting supplies to Puerto Rico; it is that the infrastructure has been decimated and the supplies cannot be delivered.”

A headline in The Miami Herald, published Friday, asked, “The Jones Act waiver was supposed to help Puerto Rico. So Where Are the Ships?

“When the Trump administration waived the Jones Act in Puerto Rico for 10 days on Sept. 28, it was hailed as an important step for the U.S. territory’s recovery from Hurricane Maria,” the newspaper reported. “But the president’s waiver, which expires on Sunday, has made little difference in the flow of aid to Puerto Rico so far.”

Although foreign ships were authorized to deliver goods to Puerto Rico, none have done so, The Herald said.

The idea for the flight originated during a Sept. 26th phone call, arranged by labor leaders in Puerto Rico, during which San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz urged Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, to get skilled relief workers to the island.

Trumka reached out to Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants; she called Insler, a member of United’s board of directors. The two “started calling [CEO Oscar Munoz] and other executives,” Nelson said. As soon as Munoz learned of the effort, he approved it, she said.

The flight carried medical workers, building trades workers with specific skills -- such as plumbers, cement masons and utility workers – and members of the three principal United unions. ALPA pilots and AFA flight attendants donated their time: Nelson worked as a flight attendant. Members of the International Association of Machinists loaded supplies; the IAM also sent supplies to Puerto Rico on a later flight.

After Maria struck, right wing web sites circulated false reports that Puerto Rican truck drivers, members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters had gone on strike and refused to deliver supplies. In reality, most drivers could not get to work. Among the volunteers on the relief flight were 91 Teamsters.

“In spite of the immense and unprecedented challenges that these selfless volunteers are facing, they are on the ground right now doing everything they can to assist,” said Teamsters International Vice President and Joint Council 16 President George Miranda, in a prepared statement. He has jurisdiction over Local 901 in San Juan, part of the group that initially called for the relief flight.

Every person on the flight had a story of sacrifice. Two of the volunteer pilots were from Puerto Rico. One passenger was a nurse from San Francisco who “had just worked a double shift when she found out about the event,” said Roger Phillips, a pilot spokesman who was on the flight. “When she found out about this, she hopped on an aircraft.”

Two other passengers, Teamster crane operators from New York, “had 24 hours’ notice,” said pilot spokesman Greg Everhard. "When they learned of the effort, “they raised their hands and said, ‘what time do you need me to be at Newark Airport?”

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