Here in America, there’s this idea that if you are dedicated and work hard, you can make a good life for yourself and your family. It’s called the American Dream, and it is a promise our country was founded on.
But for too many who work behind the scenes making the aviation industry profitable, the promise of decent working conditions and fair wages for hard work has been broken. Many services once provided by airlines that created good jobs — like aircraft catering — have been outsourced, and airlines are using their muscle to drive down bids. As a result, thousands of men and women who, for decades, have contributed to record profits in the aviation industry face a lifetime of poverty.
Just ask airline food workers Maria Carillo, Bobby Kirkpatrick, and Margarita Hernandez. Even after dedicating their careers to serving some of the country’s most profitable airlines, Maria, Bobby and Margarita earn such low wages that they can barely afford to take care of their families.
Sadly, they are far from alone.
Between 1991 and 2015, the percentage of airline workers employed by subcontractors or contractors has doubled, and studies show the shift toward outsourcing is having a direct, downward effect on workers’ wages. Nearly 40 percent of all airport workers make less than $15 an hour. One airline food worker, who has 49 years of service, earns just $12.49 an hour. Meanwhile, airlines themselves are raking in record profits and the industry as a whole earned more than $35 billion in 2016 alone.
Low wages are not the only issues airline food and service workers have to worry about.
Two of the largest airline contractors are notorious violators of the law, and have racked up dozens of infractions related to employee pay and workplace safety. Food caterers, especially, face tremendous pressure to keep pace with busy schedules despite being understaffed, working exceptionally long hours — some have reported clocking up to 70 hours in one week — and in extreme weather conditions. Yet, because of the outsourcing model they rely on, airlines are able to turn a blind eye to egregious, often illegal practices of the contractors they use.
Workers like Maria, Bobby and Margarita are fed up, and so are some of our nation’s political leaders. That’s why last year Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced the Airline Accountability Act. The Act bars federal employees, who generate billions in revenue for the commercial aviation industry, from booking business travel with airlines that have labor law violations or use contractors that violate labor laws. By hitting airlines where it hurts – their pocket books – the legislation is designed to hold these companies accountable to the working men and women who contribute to their record profits.
People like Maria, Bobby, Margarita have lived up to their end of the American Dream. It’s time the airlines they serve step up and do the same.