New York, NY — The head of the Association of Flight Attendants is calling on members and the greater flying public to join in demonstrations at their local airports this Saturday, February 16, to protest the looming threat of another crippling government shutdown.
Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants [AFA-CWA, AFL-CIO], used an emergency webcast to members on Monday afternoon, to issue the call, citing the grave threats to public safety another government shutdown will pose if a funding deal isn’t hammered out by Friday.
“We’re asking people to come to the airports on February 16, to make it clear: The American. people want a government that works for us,” Nelson said.
The AFA and other concerned groups will be leafleting airports around the country this week, urging the flying public to call their Congressional representatives and demand they pass a funding bill that keeps vital federal agencies, including the FAA, fully operational.
“In my 20 years of union work, I have never been as concerned as I am now,” Nelson said in an addressed tinged with emotion. “We can stop the worst scenario…we can’t sit by and let people walk into a dangerous situation.”
Last month, elected officials were finally able to agree on a limited funding bill, temporarily ending the government shutdown after 35 grueling days, in which 800,000 federal employees and their families were deprived of a paycheck.
But the Trump administration has continued to threaten to revive the shutdown, if Congressional Democrats do not agree to fork over billions of dollars to pay for his border wall between the United States and Mexico.
We can’t go to Day 36. The [aviation] system started to crumble on January 25. — Sara Nelson, international president, AFA-CWA
“We can’t go to Day 36,” Nelson said. “The [aviation] system started to crumble on January 25.”
Mike Perrone, national president of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists [PASS,AFL-CIO] — the union representing 11,000 behind-the-scenes safety inspectors — said that the government shutdown has already taken a toll on his members.
“It demoralizes the workforce,” Perrone said.
Astonishingly, many PASS members were deemed “nonessential” and were forced to stay home while the government shutdown dragged on for 35 days. That, according to Perrone, jeopardized the constant “focus” safety inspectors need to perform their vital tasks.
Both he and Nelson agreed that a “layer of safety is missing” and that “the longer [the government shutdown] goes…the potential for something to occur multiplies.”
“Our folks are so dedicated, they want to work, they want to come in and do the job,” Perrone said.
The government shutdown reportedly forced some TSA agents working without pay to sleep in their cars in order to save gas money.
“You can just imagine what kind of distraction that creates at work,” Nelson said. “The biggest threat to safety is distractions.”
The turmoil caused by the government shutdown may have also contributed to the death of TSA agent who committed suicide at Orlando International Airport earlier this month.
Meanwhile, roughly 40-percent of air traffic controllers working at New York area airports are reportedly eligible to retire. Nelson warned that the government shutdown may cause many of them to “put in their papers.”
“Once they’re gone, replacing those people is going to take a long time,” the AFA-CWA leader said. “Training is harder to pick up and get moving again. If enough people decided they cannot financially stay, it would have a dramatic impact on us.”
Whether they gather en mass to protest the resumption of the government shutdown, or address other job-related issues, Nelson said flight attendants will be holding airport demonstrations on Saturday.
“This is a really hard thing to talk about, to say, we’re less safe,” Nelson said. “It’s a painful thing to say.”