CWA Calls on Congress to Address Serious Safety Concerns for Airline Workers

In Wake of Tragic Fatality at American Airlines Subsidiary in Charlotte, House Aviation Subcommittee Testimony Highlights Safety Risks at Regional Airlines
Wednesday, January 15, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- At a hearing hosted today by the House Subcommittee on Aviation, CWA member Donielle Prophete called on Congress and American Airlines to address serious safety concerns for airline workers.

Prophete has worked for American Airlines subsidiary Piedmont Airlines for 15 years and is trained as both a gate agent and ramp agent. She works at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, where ramp worker Kendrick Hudson died on the job in August, 2019.

“That night, Kendrick was driving a tug and hit a piece of baggage that had fallen on the tarmac, causing the tug to flip over,” said Prophete. “Kendrick did not see the piece of baggage until it was too late, likely because the bag was dark and there was insufficient lighting. His death was a shock to all of us. Our local union had repeatedly raised concerns about inadequate lighting with Piedmont management.”

In her testimony, Prophete cited insufficient lighting on the tarmac, damaged and outdated equipment, and understaffing as key safety concerns for airline ground workers. She noted that these hazards are made worse by low wages at regional carriers like Piedmont, which lead to agents working long, exhausting shifts and taking additional jobs. Low wages contribute to high turnover, which exacerbates the understaffing problems.

“American is a highly profitable company and pays out billions to wealthy shareholders and executives. Yet, American is cutting costs and outsourcing passenger service work to low-wage contractors and regional airlines, like Piedmont,” Prophete said.

Prophete disclosed the findings from a new survey of nearly 500 Piedmont agents across the country. Ninety-four percent of agents view safety as a serious problem at their station, with 74% reporting that they feel rushed to do their jobs because of understaffing and more than half of the agents reporting that they work with defective equipment in all or most of their shifts.

Prophete noted that passenger rage and assault are a constant danger for gate agents and that Flight Attendants at the eight regional carriers represented by AFA-CWA have also raised concerns about unsafe conditions due to understaffing and the need to bridge the gap between regional and mainline carriers to make the industry better and safer.

Prophete said that action is needed to ensure that airlines are implementing the protocols on passenger rage required by the FAA Reauthorization Act. She also recommended that Congress work to establish ramp worker staffing ratios, so that there is an adequate number of agents working a flight, and mandate safety standards for ramp operations to guarantee a safe working environment at all airports.

At the congressional hearing, Dr. Brian Callaci also testified on the findings of a new CWA-commissioned study, Fissuring in Flight, using government data to show how major airline carriers have employed outsourcing, restructuring, and consolidation to suppress wages and erode the quality of jobs in the airline industry.

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