Thursday, May 19

‘I’m worried about what’s going to happen’: how Covid has made airline work risky and exhausting in the US airline industry

FFrom massive leave, voluntary job losses and retirements, staffing shortages, and an increase in harassment and assaults by unruly passengers, airport and airline workers continue to bear the brunt of the pandemic’s impact. of coronavirus in the air travel industry.

The sector was one of the most affected by Covid-19, losing around 100,000 jobs in the first months of the pandemic. Through three rounds of funding, Congress provided industry $ 54 billion in federal assistance to keep workers on payroll, while surges in the Delta variant have suffocated recovery of air travel nationally and internationally.

US airlines have differed on whether or not to implement vaccine mandates for their employees, while passengers not required get vaccinated or have a negative Covid test for flying and some airlines did not support extend mask mandates on U.S. domestic flights

“In my entire career, I have never experienced what we are experiencing right now,” said an American Airlines flight attendant who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation as he is not authorized to speak to the media. “I am going to work now and I am always worried about what is going to happen, what is going to trip someone up, unleash their anger. It’s a whole new ball game right now and it’s a different kind of passenger that we’re seeing right now. “

They said flight attendants were constantly dealing with irate passengers who refuse to comply with federal mask mandates for all flights, and would like to see more management support and paid self-defense training for all flight attendants.

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While the enforcement of Covid safety protections has fallen on flight attendants, workers are still concerned about contracting the virus and spreading it to loved ones, and dealing with stressful working conditions and the loss of multiple coworkers. who died from the virus.

So far in 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration has issued more than $ 1 million in fines against rogue airline passengers and received about 3,900 individual reports. A national poll of nearly 5,000 flight attendants released in July 2021 by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO (AFA) found that 85% of flight attendants have experienced disorderly passengers in 2021, and one in five has experienced physical incidents.

Airline Industry Workers Are Coping With Additional Risks Associated With Covid-19: Lack Of Sick Leave Benefits, Widespread lack of staffand enforce Covid-19 security protocols.

Delta airlines plans to increase health insurance premiums for all unvaccinated employees starting in November 2021 and will require them to undergo weekly Covid tests starting September 12. Delta Announced The policy was intended to mitigate the financial impact of Covid-19 infections, as the average coronavirus hospital stay has cost the company $ 40,000 per person.

A Delta Air Lines ramp agent in the U.S. Midwest who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation said he viewed Delta Air Lines’ decision to increase health insurance premiums for unvaccinated employees as a marketing rather than the company’s concern for the health of its workers.

“To this day, the people responsible for cleaning your aircraft before boarding are contract workers who do not receive health insurance. These are the people who can least afford to be sick and are more likely to overcome it and come to work with an illness, “said the worker.

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The ramp agent once used accumulated sick time to call without work because he was not feeling well and went to get tested for the coronavirus. Managers threatened to start berating employees for calling double-shift no-work, which is the only type of shift this worker has.

A Delta Air Lines spokesperson said in an email: “Our leaders are encouraged and trained to support our people who need time off to get tested and take care of themselves.”

Some airline industry workers are employed by outside contractors and have long suffered from low wages and a lack of benefits or medical care – problems that have become even more burdensome during the pandemic and as domestic travel recovered during the summer of 2021.

Jane Spurka, a wheelchair assistant for a contractor, Bags Inc, at Orlando International Airport in Florida, was suspended from March to August 2020. Shortly after returning to work, Spurka was injured on the job and had to deal with the pain of your injury. until his workers’ compensation claim was processed in May 2021. He has been on light duty ever since.

“We don’t have enough staff, we are overworked and they don’t appreciate us,” said Spurka, who makes $ 7.98 an hour plus tips. “If we are sick, be it a simple cold or the flu, we have no choice but to work. There are no paid days. We do not receive any kind of anything from the company ”.

He said wheelchair attendants had become so overwhelmed that they had not been able to take breaks, often carried two passengers at a time, and were subject to anger and frustration from airline passengers.

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Joseph Gourgue, 62, a gate agent and wheelchair attendant at Orlando International Airport, recently hired Covid and was not paid for the two weeks of work he missed while in quarantine. He also transmitted the virus to his wife. She has pre-existing health problems and said she would have stayed home longer without working, but she couldn’t afford it.

“All the company does is make sure you work every day and make sure you do your job,” said Gourgue, who is paid just above the federal minimum wage and relies on tips from passengers. “That is why I have worked so hard with my colleagues for two years to unionize. They will have to negotiate, look us in the eye. I don’t like the idea of ​​workers being taken advantage of, but this is America right now. “

A spokesperson for Bags Inc declined to comment on specific employees, citing company policy, but added in an email: “Generally speaking, employee salaries and eligibility for benefits vary by position, responsibilities , experience, location, client, full-time / part-time status and other factors. We value our employees and are committed to providing a safe work environment and following government-imposed regulations where applicable. “

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