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Sara Nelson: Democratic Socialists and Labor Share the Same Goal

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019

Image result for Sara Nelson, the International President of the Association of Flight AttendantsSara Nelson in her own words on building a fighting labor movement, the proud history of democratic socialism in America, how workers ended the shutdown, and how they’ll stop Trump, too.

On May 10, 2019, Association of Flight Attendants president Sara Nelson gave a speech to the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America’s annual Eugene Debs–Lucy Gonzalez Parsons–A. Philip Randolph Dinner. We reproduce the speech here in full, lightly edited for online publication.

Good evening, sisters and brothers. I’m here because aviation’s first responders did me the great honor of electing me to lead our union. I’m here representing them and stand in awe of their courage and care for all of us.

Our union, the Association of Flight Attendants–CWA, with fifty thousand members at twenty airlines, first formed to beat back discrimination that ranged from quitting at age thirty, or stepping on a weight scale until 1993. We fought for men to have the same rights as women on the job, and we were at the forefront of LGBTQ rights.

That spirit is what led flight attendants to declare we wouldn’t work flights that facilitated the Trump Administration’s evil policy of immigrant family separations. And it’s that spirit that led us to take a firm stand during the government shutdown, when millions of people were out of work, others were forced to work without pay, all of us were increasingly unsafe, and our entire economy was on the line. With access to 360 million voters in our workplace, we intend to continue to use the spirit of our union for good.

And let me tell you I’m proud to be with you, the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America. You have won some great victories here in this city this year. You have helped elect some incredible leaders.

Still, some ignorant political hack or media purveyor of hate is likely talking trash right now about democratic socialists. And here’s what I have to say. Helen Keller was a democratic socialist. And so was Albert Einstein. And so was George Orwell. And Bayard Rustin. And the Reuther family.

When Nazi troops came to the Warsaw Ghetto to kill the last Jews left, the men and women on the rooftops who met them with gasoline bombs were democratic socialists, and democratic socialists stood up against dictatorship throughout the twentieth century, they filled Stalin’s camps and Siberian graves.

The minimum wage, national health care, worker safety rules, Social Security — before the Great Society and before the New Deal, this was the democratic-socialist agenda.

And of course our democratic-socialist working heroes, Eugene Victor Debs, A. Philip Randolph, and Lucy Gonzalez Parsons. The police called Lucy Parsons “more dangerous than a thousand rioters” because of her skills as an orator, organizer, and rabble-rouser.

Her cry that only direct action — or the threat of it — will move the boss is a lesson we can all do well to remember.

Especially today, in this moment of crisis. Just one in ten workers in this country is a party to that charter of freedom and badge of dignity called a union contract. Our republic is mocked every day by the president who swore to defend it and by those who made him in the Republican Party.

Around the world, the dark forces of hate driven dictatorship are on the march, much as they were in the 1930s. Those who seek power through hatred feed on and inspire violence and madness, and leave behind random victims slaughtered in prayer — Christian, Jewish, and Muslim.

And yet we are gathered at a time of tremendous hope and possibility. And so I come here not to make you angry or tell you terrible things, but to bring you good news from America’s working people, and to speak to you in the language that Debs, Parsons, and Randolph spoke: the language of solidarity, of hope.

American Workers on the Offense

I want to summon in your mind’s eye the faces of all the people who walked a picket line this past year. Picture them: West Virginia’s teachers, and their mineworker parents and grandparents. Grocery workers in Boston, hotel workers here in Chicago, Google engineers in San Francisco, and Uber drivers in Los Angeles.

More working people in this country went on strike this past year than have done so in decades. These strikes were workers going on offense — workers demanding to be heard, workers striking for a better day. For one job to be enough.

These were the kind of strikes that Debs, Parsons, and Randolph would have understood, because they were visionary, because they built power, because they built right there on the picket line the kind of country we want to be; where we care for each other, where we fight hand in hand for our democracy, where our “manyness” — our many nationalities and races and religions and our diversity of gender and gender identity — is a source of pride and strength and love.

And because we won.

We beat the Wall Street greedheads and their political pawns who wanted to destroy Los Angeles’s schools in the service of their profits.

We beat the techno barons of Google who thought they could reward sexual harassers with giant pay packages. (As hotel workers said in Chicago: “hands off, pants on.”)

We beat the giant multinational corporations who own our nation’s hotels and grocery stores — who make billions in profits but would have our kids go hungry.

Workers Beat Trump

And we beat the White House.

Donald Trump thought he could close our government, stop paying our nation’s public servants, hold our wellbeing as a nation hostage to his racist hatreds. And he thought he could bully everyone.

But that’s not how it went down.

Because the people who run America’s aviation system take our responsibility to the public seriously. So we started talking about a general strike because it seemed to be the only way to stop Trump’s henchmen from in the end getting people killed in America’s skies — killed because once the federal government started treating air traffic controllers and transportation security workers like slaves, making them work without pay and under the threat of indictment if they took action against it — more and more people simply couldn’t afford to come to work.

It was a race against time. But in the end we won that race when the Federal Aviation Administration closed La Guardia Airport to air traffic because there weren’t enough air traffic controllers.

The punch line here is that this year America’s workers have learned — we have taught ourselves — that we are as brave and strong and creative as our forebears, that we can hold our heads high with Memphis sanitation strikers, Flint sit-down strikers, the martyred dead of Pullman and Haymarket and Cripple Creek, Colorado, with the mill girls of Lowell, and the rebel slaves of Charleston — that if Eugene Debs came back today and went to an LA classroom or a Chicago hotel or a flight attendant union meeting, he would know where he was.

It was the Chicago Teachers Union, under the dynamic leadership of Karen Lewis and the teachers who organized at the grassroots as part of the Caucus of Rank-and-file Educators (CORE), who showed many of us how it’s done. With their incredible strike in 2012, they won not only a great contract — they rekindled the militant, rank-and-file organizing approach that built the early labor movement over a century earlier.

But one strike does not a labor movement make. Nor does five or ten strikes. Our great task today — your task and my task, is to build a labor movement for this new century — a labor movement for all of America’s workers — a labor movement as big and bold as America itself, a labor movement that is as the poet once said of this city, “singing so proud to be alive, bragging and laughing that under our wrists are the pulse and under our ribs the heart of the people.”

People Are Ready to Fight

During our contract campaign at United, we ran picket lines for twenty-four hours at airports around the world. Thousands of flight attendants showed up on only a few days’ notice. One flight attendant reported that she heard a woman stop to watch the picketing with her two teenage sons. She told them, “See, this is what people do when they believe in something. They fight for it.”

People are ready to fight. People are waiting for answers and we have those answers for them. We need to open our arms to all working people and help them join us in building power — for all of us.

And so I want to talk to you about what you must do — particularly young people. Because the labor movement we must build will be built by young people, or it won’t be built at all.

The truth is the organizers of the great moments of growth in American labor have always been young. The Reuther brothers were in their late twenties when they began to organize the United Auto Workers. The founders of the other unions of the CIO were often even younger than that.

And there is a reason why young people lead when the labor movement grows. To grow we have to build unions that reflect the experience and needs of the new workforce, and to challenge the entrenched power of employers. That was true in the 1890s when Debs founded the American Railway Union, it was true in the 1930s and in the 1970s when teachers and sanitation workers went on strike for the right to organize and bargain, and it is true today.

The labor movement needs you to help build it.

Part of that task is to build a labor movement that speaks for and to today’s workforce — working in jobs that are integrated with miraculous, and intrusive, and sometimes overpowering technology. And remember, technology will never replace a beating heart. Never fear a robot. Fear of robots is how the rich intend to keep us down. But Uber drivers reminded us recently that we have power together.

Part of our task is to build a labor movement that sees itself truly as a labor movement — not just a collection of separate unions but a movement that is big enough, broad enough, to lift up everyone who works in America. Because just as no individual worker can stand alone, no individual union, no matter how big, can stand alone either, or can survive long on its own.

We cannot be a movement of handfuls of workers here and there, or a movement that lives off of our political skills. We also cannot succumb to the temptation of company unionism, of turning into employers’ outsourced HR solution.

We must build a powerful, democratic labor movement — built on solidarity and power in the workplace, a labor movement that is ready to work together with business to build our country, but whose core purpose is to make sure that — whether business chooses to work with us or not, working people will get our fair share of the wealth we create.

It Has to Start in the Workplace

And part of that task is to build a labor movement that truly stands for something — a movement with a mission, a movement that embodies the best our country has been and can be, a movement that challenges all of us who are part of it to be our better selves.

And we can be that movement when we choose to be. In 2017, when the White House abandoned Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, we, the labor movement, did much more than send money. We filled ships with supplies, and we filled a giant plane with skilled union workers, who spent two weeks saving lives and rebuilding communities in Puerto Rico. We turned the power back on in senior centers, reopened schools, our union nurses and doctors went to remote villages where the wounded and sick remained untreated and were seen for the first time.

The flight attendants were proud to be part of the AFL-CIO’s Puerto Rico Relief Mission, and to have helped recruit United Airlines to provide us the plane that got our relief workers to San Juan.

We need as a movement to act in that spirit every day. To bring working people together — all working people. To demand that all who work in America have their efforts recognized, their dignity honored, their rights protected, their future fought for as our future.

The good news is that every time we fight we get stronger — and there’s no shortage of fights for labor. But it has to start in the workplace. It has to start in real people’s everyday lives. If we want to build power for our movement and for working people, start in the workplace, and the politics will follow.

When we start with what people feel and see in their lives, we can build solidarity. It’s amazing what solidarity on a worksite can do. People who may be on opposite ends of a political debate can find common ground when you ground that fight in their workplace.

Just a few months ago, my union went to bat for one of our members. Selene was a DACA recipient and graduate of Texas A&M who had arrived in the United States at the age of three and just begun her dream job as a flight attendant. She was assigned a trip to Monterey, Mexico. When she told her supervisor she couldn’t fly internationally because of her DACA status, she was told it was OK to take the trip. On probation and afraid to lose her job, she went.

But when she came back, CBP stopped her and turned her over to ICE. She was put in a private detention facility in prison-like conditions for six weeks.

When we learned about her case, our union mobilized and we got her released within eighteen hours. The comment I saw that sticks with me the most during that time was from a conservative member, a Trump voter who said that she wanted “strong immigration laws,” but this was too far.

Because the fight started in the workplace, because our members understand that in the union an injury to one is an injury to all, that flight attendant was able to see past her political beliefs to what was right and what was wrong. Now she’s someone we can mobilize to fight for a fix to the DREAM Act — and from there, who knows.

Using Power Builds Power

And always remember: if you start in the workplace, the candidates will follow too. They answer to us.

Our unions have long been at the forefront of fights for social justice, because we recognized that basic premise that if we’re not all equally protected, none of us is protected. For years, we outsourced our power while the bosses were outsourcing our jobs. We spent too much time trying to cut deals with the boss or build favor with politicians, and too little time mobilizing members to fight for what we deserve.

People think power is a limited resource, but using power builds power. Once workers get a taste of our power, we will not settle for a bad deal. And we won’t stand by while someone else gets screwed, either.

So the government shutdown was a humanitarian crisis, with eight hundred thousand federal sector sisters and brothers who were either locked out of work or forced to come to work without pay due to the government shutdown. And another million people doing contract work, locked out with no warning.

In the private sector, there would have been sixty days notice for the layoff. No worker would go to work without pay. Even in bankruptcy the first day orders include approval to pay the people who are working.

Only because of our unions, we heard the stories of real people who are faced real consequences of being dragged into the longest shutdown in history. No money to pay for rent, for childcare, or a tank of gas to get to work. The federal worker stretching insulin through the night and wondering if she will wake up in the morning. The transportation security officer in her third trimester with no certainty for her unborn child. The corrections officer who tried to take his own life because he saw no other way out. The air traffic controller who whispered to his union leader, “I just don’t know how long I can hang on.” The TSA Officer in Orlando who took his life by jumping eight floors to his death in the middle of the security checkpoint.

When two million workers were locked out or being forced to work without pay during the government shutdown, and the rest of us were going to work when our workspace was becoming increasingly unsafe, I asked, “What is the labor movement waiting for?”

It was time for us to act with urgency and end the shutdown with a general strike.

The GOP had no idea what that meant, but they knew it didn’t sound good. They knew it sounded like workers might get a taste of our power, and they couldn’t have that. We ended the shutdown because we nearly toppled their entire stranglehold on our country.

Many people wanted federal workers with no right to strike to fix this situation for us. We said, don’t put it on the backs of people who are already locked out — what are you willing to do? Flight attendants made clear our rights allowed us to refuse to work in unsafe conditions, and we made clear we were going to exercise those rights. We had to define what was at stake and what leverage we had to fix it.

Solidarity Is a Force Stronger Than Gravity

And here we are — with this White House, recognizing that the last thing we can do is take the rights we’ve gained for granted. Mother Jones told us, “We will fight and win. Fight and lose. But above all, we must fight!” Our rights are never absolute. They exist because generations of workers died to give us these rights.

They were shot down at Homestead, Pennsylvania and in the hills of West Virginia. They were hanged for the Haymarket affair in Chicago, and beaten on an overpass near Detroit — all for taking a stand for the rights of working people.

There were beatings at Stonewall and murders in San Francisco City Hall. These activists thought it was important enough to stand up against all odds and put everything on the line to make it better for their families — and for our families. Today it’s our turn.

Sisters and brothers, it’s our turn to shape our labor movement. Unions in this country have led mobs against immigrants, and we have lifted up immigrants. We have written union constitutions that excluded African Americans, and yet Dr. King gave his life on a union picket line.

We as a movement are not automatically on the right side. We have to choose to be. And we have to live that choice.

And today the choices haven’t gotten easier — they have gotten harder.

Our lives and our wellbeing are completely tied together with workers in Mexico and Canada, China and Germany. Yet politicians in every country seek to divide us, pit us against each other.

The energy sector employs millions of workers. Our communities depend on coal, oil, natural gas. Yet carbon emissions threaten our very civilization.

We can fight climate change and create good jobs with rights and benefits. That’s why I support a Green New Deal. But we can only fight climate change if we stand together, if we listen and respect our brothers and sisters in the energy sector, and we demand the rich and the powerful pay their fair share in the fight against climate change. And that we begin by honoring the promises we made to the people who have kept our cities lit and our homes warm — promises that they would have a pension and health care they could count on when they retired.

And finally, unless you have forgotten, we live in a country where Donald Trump is president. Where we take refugees from persecution and violence and put them in cages, where we separate mothers from children, where our president makes excuses for Nazis and attacks local union leaders, gives trillions to corporations and threatens to take health care away from the poor.

And let me tell you, people like Donald Trump have always tried to woo working people, here in America and around the world. And after a generation of falling wages, of lost pensions and bad trade deals, a lot of people are open to anything. At least at first. But now we call him and his buddies what they are — frauds, con men, people who with one hand shake their fists at imagined enemies and with the other hand pick your pocket.

Sisters and brothers, I learned the hard way, at the bargaining table with some of the world’s most powerful corporations stacked even with the power of the bankruptcy court — that the solidarity and courage of working people is the greatest force for good in human history.

As someone said in this city long ago, “In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold, greater than the might of armies magnified a thousand fold.”

Solidarity is a force stronger than gravity and with our collective power comes respect.

This is true today. In this city, in this country, in this world. But only if we make it so.

This article was first posted by Jacobin.

This blog was originally published by In These Times on May 24, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Sara Nelson is the president of the Association of Flight Attendants–Communications Workers of America.

Meet the Militant Flight Attendant Leader Who Threatened a Strike—And Helped Stop Trump’s Shutdown

Monday, February 11th, 2019

The government shutdown introduced America to an audacious new voice in the labor movement: Sara Nelson. While receiving the MLK Drum Major for Justice Lifetime Achievement Award from the AFL-CIO on January 20, Nelson, the International President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, called for a general strike to support the 800,000 federal employees who were locked out or forced to work without pay. “Dr. King said, ‘their destiny is tied up with our destiny,’” Nelson told a cheering crowd of labor leaders. “We cannot walk alone.”

Absences among air traffic controllers on the 35th and final day of the shutdown, causing ground stops at LaGuardia Airport in New York and elsewhere, contributed to the eventual resolution of the standoff. Before the shutdown ended, flight attendants were mobilizing to walk out as well—as Nelson said, “if air traffic controllers can’t do their jobs, we can’t do ours.” Simply floating the idea of labor unrest raised the stakes. Nelson, who took over leadership of the AFA in 2014, broke an unwritten rule by expressing the logical endpoint of the power workers hold in their hands.

“I was very aware when writing that speech that it was going to be a moment and it was going to make a lot of things possible,” she told In These Times during an interview last week in Los Angeles. “There has been this hopelessness, this feeling that the problems are out of our reach. So setting a bold course and being bold about the action that we need to take was something that I knew people would respond to.”

That urgency has yet to dissipate. The shutdown was merely put on pause—government funding runs out again February 15. It’s entirely possible that workers could again get furloughed and cut off from pay. And Nelson wants everyone to understand how her members are willing to sacrifice in response.

“I know how dangerous a day 36 of the lockout would be,” she said, referring to a resumption of the shutdown. “We’re going to continue running as fast as we can right up to February 15, so that we can take action immediately on February 16 if necessary.” If flight attendants do take action, other unions and even the airlines themselves may get behind them. That’s because the shutdown inserted fundamental risk into the air travel system.

Nelson, a 23-year rank and file flight attendant with United Airlines who still occasionally works trips, thinks that it will take years for the aviation industry to recover from the shutdown and the issues that preceded it. Nearly 20 percent of all air traffic controllers are currently eligible to retire, a figure that rises to 40 percent in the New York City area, Nelson said. Staffing was at a 30-year low before the shutdown. The political uncertainty could easily convince air traffic controllers into cutting their careers short. And the training required for such a difficult job means that replacing these workers will take time.

“If you have a 99.5 percent efficiency rate in a job, people applaud you, you get awards, right?” Nelson explained. “If an air traffic controller has a 99.5 percent efficiency rate, 50 planes go down a day.”

Fewer people managing plane traffic means reduced capacity in the air. That has an economic impact, compounded by the shutdown’s temporary halt on installing improved safety measures like the NextGen modernization—an FAA-led effort to modernize the United States’ transportation system. Even after the shutdown, NextGen has not rolled back to life, Nelson said. “No contractor is going to come to work when they think they’re going to have to shut down in two weeks possibly.”

Amid this economic uncertainty and threat to safety, Nelson has signaled a critical need for worker action. The labor strike is having a renaissance in America. Teachers across the country—even in states like West Virginia where striking is illegal—have withheld their labor to bargain for better pay, conditions and outcomes for their students. Hotel workers at Marriott spent two months on the picket lines this winter to win concessions from management.

As Nelson understands, the willingness of workers to strike has powerful effects. The Association of Flight Attendants resolved a dispute in 1993 with Alaska Airlines—which led to as much as 60 percent pay raises for workers in some cases—by only striking seven flights. The union called it CHAOS: “create havoc around our system.” With air travel so interconnected and interdependent, the ever-present threat of CHAOS has helped lead to labor peace.

The right to strike is a privilege that federal employees are denied; they are legally prohibitedfrom walkouts, and they can be terminated, hit with the loss of a federal pension, and even personally prosecuted for defying the law. “Those federal workers were actually very courageous,” Nelson said. “Because in my view what the White House wanted here was for the workers to strike. They wanted to replace them so they could privatize the entire system.” This is not so far-fetched—President Trump has publicly supported air traffic control privatization.

Nelson believes that the heroic efforts of federal workers to show up to work without pay demands that the labor movement support them with solidarity strikes, part of her desire to shake up the status quo. “If we try to play by the rules, we’re only going to continue to decline,” she said.

Part of Nelson’s power derives from the union she leads. Flight attendants are a uniquely consumer-facing profession that comes into contact with millions of Americans every day. And they share with passengers the indignities of air travel, a by-product of corporate greed and industry consolidation that has left four carriers controlling 80 percent of all domestic routes. With few alternatives for passengers, shrinking seats and overhead bins have heightened tensions in the cabin, and flight attendants are bearing the brunt. According to Nelson, “Our union, our bread and butter issues are absolutely tied up in this overall fight that I think is really about, are we going to be about people or are we going to be about politics and profits?”

In the near term, that fight is translating into mass mobilization against the threat of another shutdown. Nelson’s union is leafleting at airports and communicating to the public between now and February 15 to identify the stakes, and making clear that members are committed to walking out if necessary. They’re also advocating for a permanent end to government shutdowns, and back wages for low-income federal contract workers who were furloughed.

One moment during the previous shutdown has stuck with Nelson, a reminder of the unifying force of cross-sector solidarity. “I was doing interviews on the shutdown in a cab ride” in Washington, D.C., Nelson recalled. “And when I got to the office and went to get out and pay my fare, the cab driver turned around and his chin was shaking and his eyes were watery. And he said, ‘Thank you, I know you’re fighting for me too.’ It was like, oh yeah, there’s been nobody on the streets, and he’s had no fares. And that really shook me, because we don’t really understand how much the effect ripples.”

This notion that we all have a stake in one another’s struggles has driven Nelson’s thinking throughout this government-created crisis, and it’s elevated her to a prominence that could portend a larger role in the future. Nelson begged off such thoughts, insisting that she was focused on saving the lives of her members and airline passengers. But she did leave some room to consider the broader lessons of collective action, in a moment when so many forces are aligned against the working class: “I’m very aware that if we do it well, it’s an opportunity for workers to taste their power.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on February 8, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: David Dayen is an investigative fellow with In These Times‘ Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting. His book Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street’s Great Foreclosure Fraud won the 2015 Studs and Ida Terkel Prize. He lives in Los Angeles, where prior to writing about politics he had a 19-year career as a television producer and editor.

New Survey Shows Sexual Harassment a Pervasive Problem for Flight Attendants

Friday, May 11th, 2018

AFA-CWA President Sara Nelson discussed the scope of the problem:

While much of the coverage of the #MeToo movement has focused on high-profile cases in the entertainment industry and politics, this survey underscores why AFA has long been pushing to eradicate sexism and harassment within our own industry. The time when flight attendants were objectified in airline marketing and people joked about ‘coffee, tea, or me’ needs to be permanently grounded. #TimesUp for the industry to put an end to its sexist past.

Nelson noted that the problems associated with the harassment go beyond the harm caused to the flight attendants:

Flight attendants are first responders. Their authority when responding to emergencies is undermined when they are belittled and harassed. Likewise, harassment makes it more difficult for flight attendants to intervene when passengers are harassed by other passengers. Flight attendants must be confident that airline executives will back them up when they respond to and report harassment of crew and passengers.

Here are some of the key facts uncovered by the survey:

  • 68% of flight attendants have experienced sexual harassment during their flying careers.
  • 35% experienced verbal sexual harassment from passengers in the past year. 
  • Of those who have experienced verbal sexual harassment in the past year, 68% faced it three or more times, and one-third five or more times.
  • Flight attendants describe the verbal sexual harassment as comments that are “nasty, unwanted, lewd, crude, inappropriate, uncomfortable, sexual, suggestive and dirty.” They also report being subjected to passengers’ explicit sexual fantasies, propositions, request for sexual “favors” and pornographic videos and pictures.
  • 18% experienced physical sexual harassment from passengers in the past year. 
  • Of those who experienced physical sexual harassment in the past year, more than 40% of those suffered physical abuse three or more times.
  • Flight attendants said the physical sexual harassment included having their breasts, buttocks and crotch area “touched, felt, pulled, grabbed, groped, slapped, rubbed and fondled” both on top of and under their uniforms. Other abuse included passengers cornering or lunging at them followed by unwanted hugs, kisses and humping.
  • Only 7% of the flight attendants who experienced sexual harassment reported it to their employer. 
  • 68% of flight attendants say they haven’t noticed any employer efforts over the past year to address sexual harassment at work. According to AFA-CWA, airlines Alaska, United and Spirit have led the industry in addressing this issue.

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on May 11, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.

The Skies Just Got Friendlier for Working People: Worker Wins

Thursday, August 24th, 2017

Our latest roundup of worker wins begins with flight attendants and air traffic controllers standing together to make the skies safer for working people and travelers and includes numerous examples of workers organizing, bargaining and mobilizing for a better life. 

Flight Attendents Reach Tentative Agreement with Mesa Airlines: Flight attendants at Mesa Airlines, represented by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA), stood together in efforts to have the work they do as aviation’s first responders recognized. They successfully announced that they have negotiated a tentative agreement with management on a four-year agreement that would provide more than 1,100 flight attendants with economic and quality of life gains.

Teachers Who Train Air Traffic Controllers Join IAM: In an effort to make the skies safer and improve the lives of working people, more than 280 instructors at SAIC in Oklahoma City have joined the Machinists (IAM). Facing a strong anti-union campaign from SAIC, the instructors successfully organized and now have more leverage to make sure the public is safer.

Swissport Workers Stand Together and Put Employer on Notice: Cleaners and ramp agents at Bush Intercontinental Airport voted to join the IAM, citing broken promises on pay, scheduling, overtime, and working conditions. IAM Organizer Fabian Liendo said: “Workers stood together throughout the campaign and put Swissport on notice. These new IAM members sent a clear message and are prepared to fight to secure much-needed job improvements. They should be very proud of what they’ve accomplished.”

Graduate Employees at University of Chicago to Hold Election in October: When the university attempted to deny its’ graduate employees right to come together to negotiate for a fair return on their work, the working people fought back. Their efforts were rewarded when the National Labor Relations Board rejected the university’s argument and ruled that a union election can go forward. The election is scheduled take place in October.

In Near-Universal Vote, Nurses in Turlock, Calif, Vote to Join CNA: Nearly 300 registered nurses at Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock, California, voted overwhelmingly (284-4) to join the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United. Chelsey Jerner, an emergency room RN, said: “As patient advocates, we voted yes to have a collective RN voice to enhance positive patient outcomes at our hospital. Patient safety is our number one priority.”

Oregon Service Industry Workers Earn Protection from Unfair Scheduling: A coalition led by the Oregon Working Families Party fought for legislation that would protect retail, hospitality and food service workers from unfair scheduling practices. Gov. Kate Brown (D) signed the bill into law earlier this month. Working Family spokesperson Hannah Taube said: “This is a huge moment for labor rights in America. Oregon’s Fair Work Week legislation is one of the most important labor victories in decades for low-wage workers. We hope Oregon is the first of many states to expand scheduling protections for workers—knowing when you work more than a day in advance is essential to parents, students and many other workers trying to make ends meet with two or three different jobs.”

More than 40,000 Educators in Puerto Rico Join AFT to Fight Education Austerity: On Aug. 3, the Asociacion de Maestros de Puerto Rico (AMPR) signed a three-year agreement with the AFT in order to fight back against austerity and privatization in education that is having a devastating impact on students and teachers in Puerto Rico. AFT President Randi Weingarten said: “The people of Puerto Rico didn’t cause this crisis, but they’re forced to shoulder most of the burden because of the actions of hedge funders and irresponsible government deals.”

Lipton Tea Workers in Suffolk Organize for First Time in Plant’s 60-Year History: For the first time in the history of the Lipton Tea production plant in Suffolk, Virginia, employees have voted to unionize. The vote was 109-6 to join United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400.

This blog was originally published at AFLCIO.org on August 24, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars. Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History. His writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

Flight Attendants Honored for Battle Against Workplace Sex Discrimination

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

Image: Mike HallThe Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA) was honored for its “pioneering role” in fighting sex discrimination in the workplace at a ceremony this week marking the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Chicago event was part of a yearlong series of events by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) celebrating the landmark civil rights law.

Shari Worrell, who began her flight attendant’s career as “stewardess” for United Airlines in 1968, told Burt Constable of the Arlington (Ill.) Daily Herald she had to step on the scale to prove she weighed between 105 and 118 pounds, undergo an inspection to make sure the seams in her stockings were straight and submit to a girdle check.

But armed by Title VII of the act, the AFA-CWA began challenging discriminatory policies based on gender, race, age, weight, pregnancy and marital status. Over the next decade, AFA-CWA defeated airline rules requiring mandatory resignation at ages 30-35, prohibiting employment of married and pregnant flight attendants and demanding equal pay.

Professor Mary Rose Strubbe, assistant director of the Institute for Law and the Workplace at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, which hosted the event said, “The flight attendants played an astonishing role in the development of Title VII.” She told Constable that the changes pushed by flight attendants:

“forced employers to look at the idea that you can’t have rules that address what woman can and can’t do in the workplace if you don’t have rules for men.”

Former AFA-CWA President Patricia Friend, who began flying in 1966 with United, spoke about her career and the union’s battle for gender equality. Said AFA-CWA President Sara Nelson:

“AFA has a long and proud history of beating back discrimination. Through persistent efforts, AFA has worked to ensure that women receive equal pay, domestic partners receive equal benefits, weight restrictions were removed, men could serve as Flight Attendants and all Flight Attendants have the right to marry and have children. Our union fought for decades and overcame discriminatory policies one by one and we are honored that this dedicated work is being recognized.”

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on October 25, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Other-News/Flight-Attendants-Honored-for-Battle-Against-Workplace-Sex-Discrimination

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen him at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. He was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still has the shirts, lost the hair.

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