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Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, called on Congress to pass an economic stimulus package for the airline industry that focuses on airline workers, not on tax breaks for corporations. (Photo: AFL-CIO)

Labor Leader Sara Nelson Demands Stimulus Package That Bails Out Airline Industry Workers—Not Shareholders and CEOs

The Trump administration is discussing a stimulus package with the Senate today which includes $50 billion for the airline industry, following demands from an industry trade group.

Julia Conley

As the Trump administration signaled that it would take measures to support the airline industry as the coronavirus pandemic led to international flight restrictions and a slowdown in bookings, the union representing flight attendants called on Congress to ensure airline workers—not executives and shareholder profits—are at the center of the effort to shore up the industry.

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, released a video on social media early Tuesday morning calling on lawmakers to prioritize the interests of working people in the industry as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin prepared to meet with Senate Republicans to discuss an $850 billion economic stimulus package, which is set to include $50 billion for the airlines.

The industry stimulus was included following a request for $58 billion in aid from the trade group Airlines for America, but Nelson implored Congress to include direct support for flight attendants, pilots, and other workers in their plan to help keep airline companies afloat during the pandemic.

"We have told Congress that any stimulus funds for the aviation industry must come with strict rules that includes requiring employers across aviation to maintain pay and benefits for every worker," Nelson said in the video. "No taxpayer money for CEO bonuses, stock buybacks, or dividends; no breaking contracts through bankruptcy; and no federal funds for airlines that are fighting their workers' efforts to join a union."

Nelson also shared her union's proposal for a bailout for workers rather than corporations in a Twitter thread. Mass layoffs for airline workers, she said, who need to go through a months-long security clearance process before being hired, would delay recoveries for many industries once the coronavirus pandemic is over.

The proposal submitted to the administration by Airlines for America mentions the country's 750,000 airline workers only in passing.

The trade group called on Congress to provide $30 billion in grants for passenger airlines and $25 billion in loans and temporary tax relief in the form of repeals and rebates on excise taxes.

President Donald Trump said Monday the administration would be "powerfully supporting" the airline industry with the stimulus package, which also includes a payroll tax cut—a measure which Democrats and other critics have denounced as doing nothing to help workers who have or will lose their jobs during the national crisis.

The administration's consideration of the industry's demands comes after Virgin Atlantic, which is reducing flights by about 80%, said Monday it would force staff to take eight weeks of unpaid leave.

On social media, workers' rights advocates applauded Nelson for her call to center airline workers in any effort to bail out the industry.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) indicated he would back Nelson's demand for a stimulus package that offers direct support for airline workers.

"Any infusion of money to the airlines must have some major strings attached—including new rules to prohibit consumer abuses like unfair change and cancellation fees; protections for front-line workers like flight attendants, pilots, and airport workers; special consideration for our smaller, regional carriers not represented by the major trade associations; and the development of long-term strategies and targets to reduce the carbon footprint of the airline industry," Markey said in a statement. "As our next coronavirus stimulus package is developed, I will demand these conditions be met before supporting any airline bailout."

Nelson emphasized in her video that keeping airline workers employed and paid will enable them to serve the country during and after the crisis.

"Today we will save our industry and our jobs, tomorrow, our neighbors," Nelson said. "And in the weeks and months to come, our future."

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