Mobilizing Coast to Coast to End Poverty Wages
ENVOY AIR, PIEDMONT AIRLINES AGENTS AND THEIR UNION ALLIES DESCENDED ON AIRPORTS NATIONWIDE ON MONDAY TO ALERT CUSTOMERS TO POVERTY-LEVEL WAGES
Passenger service agents from American Airlines’ subsidiaries Envoy Air and Piedmont Airlines gathered at airports across the country on Monday, April 16 -- to mark “Tax Day” -- to step up their calls for sustainable, family-supporting wages at the airline. The mobilizations came as Envoy, Piedmont and other corporations face national scrutiny over how they have used benefits from corporate tax cuts that proponents claimed would lift wages for working families.
American posted $1.9 billion in profits last year and is expected to reap millions from the recently passed corporate tax cut bill, but Envoy and Piedmont agents have faced years-long delays in contract negotiations, with both companies refusing to address the critical issue for working families: permanent, sustainable wages. At Envoy -- where agents make as little as $9.48 an hour -- a recent survey showed more than a quarter of participants relied on public assistance to make ends meet. Starting salaries at Piedmont are as low as $8.50 an hour.
“The hollow promises made by American and its army of corporate lobbyists are a slap in the face to the hardworking agents and their families who must turn to food stamps and even sell their own blood while those at the top reap the rewards of the biggest corporate tax scam in U.S. history,” said Chris Shelton, President of the agents’ union, the Communications Workers of America. “From California to New York, agents and community supporters are standing together to tell CEO Doug Parker that we’re united in our fight for family-supporting wages.”
The agents and their union allies leafleted at airports nationwide Monday to alert American Airlines customers to the low pay at Envoy and Piedmont. Travelers also had the opportunity to sign a petition urging American Airlines CEO Doug Parker to ensure all of the company’s workers can earn a living wage. Agents will gather at the following airports:
- Chicago - O’Hare
- Cleveland Hopkins International Airport
- Des Moines International Airport
- New York City - John F. Kennedy International Airport
- Phoenix International Airport
- Greater Rochester International Airport
- San Diego International Airport
A recent national survey of Envoy agents found that agents are often forced to take extreme measures like selling plasma, buying out of date food and borrowing against retirement accounts to cover everyday living expenses. These hardships were echoed in a new op-ed from Cincinnati-based Envoy agent Tihana Bookhart. In her piece, Bookhart, a single mother to two young boys, describes the daily sacrifices she has been forced to endure to provide for her family, including the use of child care assistance, food stamps and Medicaid.
“For more than ten years, I’ve given my all to serve American Airlines customers and help the company grow, and yet I can barely afford to provide for my family without turning to outside help,” said Bookhart. “There’s simply no excuse for the fact that thousands of workers at the largest U.S. carrier live on the edge of financial catastrophe, especially after companies like American Airlines promised these massive tax cuts would help families like my own. We’re standing together to say ‘enough is enough’ and we’re ready to do whatever it takes to fight for what’s right.”
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.” The company anticipates tax refunds of $170 million in 2019 and 2020 as a result of the repeal of the Corporate Alternative Minimum Tax. The company announced a one-time bonus for employees but has refused to negotiate meaningful pay increases.
This month, the Communications Workers of America, along with Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Teamsters and the American Federation of Teachers sent letters to Piedmont Airlines, Envoy Air and other major corporations demanding detailed information on how these companies are using their gains from the largest corporate tax cut in U.S. history. The letters request that the companies explain how they are benefiting from the tax code changes, as well as information on how these benefits are being used to raise wages and create jobs -- assurances publicized by political and corporate supporters of the tax cuts.
More than 9,500 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 customers, 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 and Piedmont 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.
In recent weeks and months, agents and other CWA members rallied at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Philadelphia International Airport, Douglas International Airport in Charlotte and Orlando International Airport to talk with passengers about their poverty-level pay and tell American to support living wages. In February, Envoy agents also launched a digital advertising campaign with videos offering powerful testimonials from individual workers about their struggle to get by.