President of Flight Attendants Union Suggests General Strike to End Government Shutdown

President of Flight Attendants Union Suggests General Strike to End Government Shutdown 

This article was originally published by Popular Mechanics on January 23, 2019.

As the partial government shutdown stretches into a monthlong slog with no end in sight, TSA workers and other federal employees in the U.S. aviation industry have felt the strain of clocking in for work without the prospect of pay.

There's been little reason to believe the stalemate between President Trump and Democratic members of Congress—stemming from a prospective $5 billion wall on the southern border with Mexico—will end, but a solution that could potentially bring the impasse to a halt was recently suggested by Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) President Sara Nelson: a general strike. 

Speaking on Monday at an award ceremony in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson suggested the collective power of furloughed workers and their allies could potentially signal the end of the longest government shutdown in the country's history:

"Almost a million workers are locked out or being forced to work without pay. Others are going to work when our workspace is increasingly unsafe. What is the Labor Movement waiting for?
Go back with the Fierce Urgency of NOW to talk with your Locals and International unions about all workers joining together - To End this Shutdown with a General Strike.
We can do this. Together. Si se puede. Every gender, race, culture, and creed. The American Labor Movement. We have the power."

Though the AFA does not represent employees impacted by the federal government's shutdown, Nelson advocated the cause for a general strike as a matter of solidarity, citing the 800,000 caught in the crosshairs as the deadlock continues in Washington.

"Some would say the answer is for them to walk off the job. I say, “what are you willing to do? Their destiny IS tied up with our destiny – and they don’t even have time to ask us for help. Don’t wait for an invitation. Get engaged, join or plan a rally, get on a picket line, organize sit-ins at lawmakers’ offices."

Popular Mechanics has reached out to the AFA for comment regarding any potential plans for a general strike, but hasn't received a reply.

During her Monday speech, Nelson primarily cited the strain placed on Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers, who've called out sick in recent weeks citing the tenuous nature of working for an unfunded government. On Wednesday, TSA wrote an email to officials across ten states and 100 airports, imploring agents working at well-staffed airports to lend their services to airports facing a high number of callouts.

Earlier this month, reports suggested hundreds of agency workers were calling out sick from airports across the country, though the TSA contradicted those claims, citing quick waits during the security screening process.

But the burden placed on TSA has flared consistently throughout the month, with a security checkpoint at Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport closing temporarily due to thinning personnel earlier in January. According to The New York Times, a day later, the agency said one in 13 screeners nationwide failed to report to work.

The government shutdown has effected more aviation workers than the 51,000 employed by TSA. Earlier in January, a coalition of 34 industry groups wrote a letter to Donald Trump, insisting that the shutdown affects air traffic controllers, pilot training, and aircraft inspectors.

"Please return our government to full capacity now, and continue your discussions once that is done," the letter said. "We cannot sacrifice critical safety, security, and economic stability in the airline industry as another area of national security is discussed.''

Update, 1/25:

Amid staffing shortages at three major airports on the East Coast that caused delays on Friday, the AFA called on Congress in a statement to end the government shutdown immediately, noting that the lack of staff is a critical risk to the safety of U.S. airspace:

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