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Airline Unions Meet with Rep. Speier on Issues of Jobs, Outsourcing, and Safety

The Labor Council’s Airport Labor Coalition met with Congresswoman Jackie Speier in February to discuss issues of concern to airline unions.


Members of the Teamsters, who represent mechanics at United Airlines, and Engineers and Scientists of California Local 20, who represent engineers at the airline, expressed concerns about outsourcing of maintenance work done on UAL’s fleet of jets. Teamsters Local 856 Business Agent Paul Molenberg said that there are problems with maintenance done at other stations, including in El Salvador, where workers don’t have Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recognized qualifications.

The Teamster representatives pointed out that work done outside of the US is happening in unsafe, unsecured locations and that foreign repair stations are not held to same standard as domestic repair stations. Tens of thousands of jobs are also lost in the US as a result. Dave Saucedo, Business Reresentative of Teamsters Local 986 fromWashngton state, said that the cheapening of aircraft maintenance is a dangerous game, with security issues that come from outsourcing.

The union called for raising standards through the FAA and the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) regardless of existence trade agreements like the Central American Free Trade Agreement or North American Free Trade Agreement. A training plan should also be implemented as well as un-announced security inspections. “Let mechanics on the ground take care of home aircrafts,” Saucedo said.

The Teamsters noted that there are over 700 unsecured maintenance bases around the world and it is very tough to oversee bases outside the US, as budgets of federal agencies aren’t enough to allow for frequent inspections.

Rep. Speier serves on the Homeland Security Committee in the House of Representatives. She said that the PG&E pipeline explosion is San Bruno last September, “taught me a lesson about the need for strict oversight and safety.”

Lou Lucivero of Engineers and Scientists of California Local 20 said that the Engineers union had won its battle to do some of the technical work at United domestically. He said that the airline had outsourced 70 jobs, but United saw the error of their ways and pulled it back in house. Lucivero pointed out that Singapore Technologies in Alabama and Texas are non-union maintenance bases and that there is also a non-union facility in Florida.

Machinists Local 1781 representatives also expressed concerns about outsourcing of work by United to contractors like Swiss Port for air freight services. They said that there is improper training of people to whom jobs are outsourced. “We have safety concerns because there are workers who are not trained or qualified to handle hazardous materials, and hazardous material have gone out and not been documented,” Local 1781 President Larry Wing said. “We get training every year on handling hazardous materials, but the Swiss Port training guidelines are unknown.”

SMCLC Executive Secretary-Treasurer Shelley Kessler pointed out that baggage screeners don’t have time to look at all the packages being shipped. Speier said that she had visited the screening process and suggested that workers document any instances where work is being done too quickly. The IAM pointed out that there aren’t enough people to properly screen baggage to make sure that nothing hazardous has been checked. [Covenant Aviation Security recently hired more screeners.]

Greg Brown of Machinists District Council 141 said that that overhead bins were being overloaded as more passengers carry on luggage to avoid baggage check-in fees. He said that caused a safety issue for onboard crew. “The weight on a plane is also an issue,” Brown said. “Weight and balance on a plane is critical and determines how you set flaps and controls, but luggage isn’t being weighed.” Speier suggested that there should be scales and a study should be done to address the issue.
Brown said that with more airlines contracting out work, training costs have been cut. “It’s getting to be a commodity,” he said.

An American Airlines employee and Transport Workers Union member said that when there is a problem or safety concern, “no one will speak up because they’re afraid.” Speier said that if workers were having problems with retaliation for whistleblowing they could come to her and she would protect them from any retaliation.

Heide Oberndorf from the Airline Pilots Association said that pilots get a form before takeoff telling them what’s on the plane and where it’s located. If material is not being boarded properly and pilots are not informed, they can’t be the last line of defense. “The issue is a culmination of outsourcing, mergers, and race to be the cheapest run airline possible with the most flights out,” she said. “Airline workers are very proud of our professions and want to deliver a safe product, but outsourcing takes control out of the hands of people who are expected to deliver.” She asked Speier to co-sponsor legislation (HR 4788) to prevent outsourcing of aviation jobs.

Steve Pitocchi of SEIU 1021 said his members coordinate and carry out security and background checks of individuals who get badges to go on airfield and they also maintain the perimeter of the airport. “Outsourcing these positions and understaffing them are a huge security concern,” he said.

Stan Kiino of the Association of Flight Attendants urged Speier to help preserve the new language in the FAA reauthorization bill that provides OSHA protections for flight attendants. Conservative Republican Senator Rand Paul is trying to remove the language and protections. Kiino said safety is not being emphasized. “The FAA does not do a good job preserving safety standards for flight attendants,” he said.

Kiino also noted that the flight attendants were still working at 1994 wages and without a new contract.

Speier said it was difficult to stop bad bills in the House, so they need to be stopped in the Senate. She said that about 40 percent of union members vote Republican and called on the unions to educate their members that “voting Republican is voting away your job.”

She pointed out that the Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court allows corporations to “air drop of millions of dollars in any one race.” She said corporate interests and operatives like Karl Rove and the Koch brothers targeted districts around the country where they thought they could pick off Democrats and spent millions of dollars in those districts. “It could happen anywhere,” Speier said. “They want to transform Congress.”

Rep. Speier said she would look into the issues brought up by the unions.

Members of the ALC discussed how to educate union members and the general public about the impact of outsourcing. IBT Business Rep. Peter Finn noted that “Republican voters hate outsourcing, too.”

- Paul Burton

Rep. Jackie Speier and Senior Advisor Brian Perkins listen to union members’ concerns about jobs, outsourcing, and safety at the Airport Labor Coalition meeting Feb. 7.