Washington, D.C. — Today, labor unions representing tens of thousands of airport passenger service agents are urging President Biden and other administration officials to address the increase in assaults at airports through more effective federal enforcement of existing laws against assaulting airport customer service representatives and gate agents. The unions – Communications Workers of America (CWA), International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), and Transport Workers Union of America (TWU), along with the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department (TTD) – are engaged in a coordinated effort to raise awareness about this issue, hold responsible agencies accountable and ensure that all frontline gate agents have a safe workplace, free from the threat of violence.
“Workers are doing what they can to follow established protocols, protect themselves, retain their dignity, and appropriately engage law enforcement,” the unions wrote in a letter to Biden, Attorney General Merrick Garland, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “Unfortunately, little is being done by federal agencies to address the issue. Our unions cannot allow these attacks that occur on an almost daily basis to continue to go unaddressed. The health of the entire airline industry will depend on a strong and coordinated federal response to assaults against ground service personnel.”
SEE THE FULL LETTER HERE.
Passenger service agents are a vital part of a multilayered airline security and safety process at the airport and their importance cannot be understated. They are responsible for assisting passengers and keeping air travel on schedule and safe. During the pandemic, agents have added to their list of duties, enforcing federal mask requirements and securing access to the aircraft from aggressive, often physically violent passengers. Alcohol consumption is often a contributing factor in passenger assaults.
While the FAA has recently begun stepping up its enforcement of incidents on planes, incidents at airports are going unaddressed, often because of uncertainty about which law enforcement agencies have jurisdiction and the process for referring incidents for federal prosecution. In response to the increasing number of unruly passenger incidents on airplanes, the U.S. Attorney General’s office recently issued a memorandum calling for an interagency coordination to address criminal conduct on commercial flights. Unfortunately, this guidance excluded airport and ground service workers.
The prosecution last month of a group of passengers for attacking a Delta security officer at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York is a welcome development. It is unusual for passengers who attack airline personnel in airports to face any serious repercussions. However, many more similar attacks have gone unaddressed by those tasked with enforcing the law. The letter lists a few of these egregious incidents including two separate incidents at JFK where aggressive passengers severely attacked gate agents by punching, kicking, and shoving them to the point where one of the agents had to be transported to the hospital. In another incident at the Charlotte Douglas Airport that was captured on video, an extremely intoxicated passenger physically and verbally attacked multiple agents who were only fulfilling their duties by denying the passenger access to his flight.
“In a recent internal survey, hundreds of CWA passenger service agents reported experiencing varying degrees of physical and verbal aggression that are rarely addressed by responsible authorities. This is a major threat facing aviation workers on the frontlines,” said CWA President Chris Shelton. “Our agents deserve to work in a dignified and safe work environment. Perpetrators who threaten the safety and security of airport workers and other passengers should be held fully accountable for their actions. The agencies responsible for ensuring the safety of our air travel have to step up and address this issue.”
“The IAM supports the push for more substantial penalties against unruly passengers who assault passenger service agents and other airline workers,” said Richard Johnsen, IAM Chief of Staff to the International President. “Our union continues to ring the alarm and highlight the need of enforcing the laws for assault against all airline workers. The best way to curb these unfortunate incidents is for the interagency working group to listen to the impacted workers in the airline industry. We must all work together to end the assaults that afflict our members.”
“The abuse of brave men and women on the frontlines of passenger safety is abhorrent and demands federal action,” said Capt. David Bourne, Teamsters Airline Division Director. “Without their work we wouldn’t have hundreds of thousands of Americans flying safely every day. It needs to be made loud and clear that assault on an aircraft is no different than assault off of an aircraft: if you initiate it, you face criminal prosecution.”
“The violence against Passenger Service Agents – and all transport workers – must be prosecuted to the fullest extent,” said TWU International President John Samuelsen. “These essential workers have been sacrificing their health and safety throughout this pandemic and absolutely should not have to think about being assaulted on the job. Government agencies must do their due diligence and enforce higher penalties that will deter this outrageous behavior. Enough is enough.”
“It is an outrage that working people who staff the front lines of America’s passenger transportation systems are facing brutal assaults and abusive and unruly behavior by the users of the systems,” said TTD President Greg Regan. “Every day, these workers ensure the safety of the traveling public. In doing so, they should not have to sacrifice their own safety. It is time for federal agencies to take stronger measures to protect our passenger transportation workforce, including airport customer service representatives, gate agents, and all ground service personnel.”
The Communications Workers of America represents working people in telecommunications, customer service, media, airlines, health care, public service and education, manufacturing, tech, and other fields, including more than 20,000 passenger service agents who work for American Airlines and its wholly owned subsidiaries, Envoy Air and Piedmont Airlines.
The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers is the largest airline union in North America and one of the largest and most diverse industrial trade unions in North America, representing approximately 600,000 active and retired members in the aerospace, defense, airlines, railroad, transit, healthcare, automotive, and other industries.
Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents 1.4 million hardworking men and women throughout the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico.
The Transport Workers Union of America represents more than 155,000 members across the airline, railroad, transit, universities, utilities, and service sectors.
The Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) is a coalition of 36 member unions dedicated to providing a bold voice for transportation workers across America.