NEW YORK -- At American Airlines’ annual shareholder meeting in New York today, a passenger service agent from one of the company’s subsidiaries demanded answers from the CEO and board of directors about how they can approve increased multi-million dollar payouts for top brass while many of their workers must rely on food stamps and other forms of public assistance because of poverty pay.
Despite American Airlines reporting $1.9 billion in profits in 2017, buying back $11.5 billion in stock over the past 4 years and recently announcing an additional $2 billion stock buyback program, agents at American-owned Envoy Air are paid as little as $9.48 an hour and have been trying to negotiate a new contract with fair, family-sustaining wages for nearly two years. Wages at Piedmont Airlines, another American Airlines subsidiary, start at just $8.50 an hour.
At the meeting, Envoy agent Takisha Gower said: “I am here on behalf of my 9,000 coworkers at Envoy and Piedmont who are seeking fair pay for our work, and fair union contracts. We are the face of American, and we’re expected to project a positive image. But we are treated like we don’t have value...We are negotiating in good faith, yet American is refusing to agree to pay family-supporting wages and put agents on a career track.”
A recent nationwide survey of 900 Envoy agents showed that 27 percent must rely on public assistance to make ends meet, and many are forced to go to extreme measures to cover basic living expenses, including selling plasma, buying out-of-date food and borrowing against retirement accounts. An additional sixty percent of agents rely on family and friends to get by, and only 13 percent say their wages are enough to support them.
Gower went on to say: “ The work we do is important to the American Airlines network and brand. American’s regional affiliates flew 54% of all domestic departures last year. The company is moving more flights to its regional subsidiaries, away from outside contractors. We’re flying bigger planes and more flights - so why are we earning poverty wages?
The outrage voiced about poverty pay at American’s shareholder meeting comes as the company enjoys continued profitability and growth spurred by tax cuts, and faces heat from elected officials. In February, over 80 members of Congress urged American CEO Doug Parker to “conclude your collective bargaining negotiations and ensure that all of your employees can earn a living wage,” and to follow through on promises made in support of recent corporate tax cuts.
American Airlines – through its lobbying arm – supported the recently-passed “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” and suggested it “ will spur a new era of job growth and economic development.” In addition to a small benefit in 2017, the company anticipates tax refunds of $170 million in 2019 and 2020 as a result of the repeal of the Corporate Alternative Minimum Tax. As detailed recently in the New York Times, the company announced a one-time bonus for employees but has refused to address the main issue for workers and raise pay to ensure permanent, sustainable worker wages.
More than nine thousand five hundred passenger service agents at American Airlines subsidiaries Envoy Air and Piedmont Airlines work at some of the nation’s biggest and busiest airports as well as smaller regional airports that connect flyers to travel destinations around the country.
They provide services essential to ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience for flyers, such as managing pre-flight checks, de-escalating tense situations and helping passengers re-book their flights during inclement weather. Low wages, long hours and challenging working conditions are fueling significant turnover among these agents, leading to tens of thousands of dollars in unnecessary training and hiring costs for the company.
The work done by agents at Envoy, Piedmont and American’s other regional carriers is also an increasingly vital component of the company’s overall business health, with regional subsidiaries and affiliates operating 53 percent of American’s flights and bringing in 75 percent more revenue than the mainline carrier per available seat mile.
The agents and other CWA members have been rallying at airports throughout the country to talk with passengers about their poverty-level pay and tell American to support living wages.