Fed's airline bailout bill leaves workers behind

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The congressional rush to enact legislation to help the victims of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon is apparently leaving some workers behind. The national AFL-CIO said the airline bailout bill Congress passed Sept. 21 helped the airlines, but not their workers.

Congress rushed through a package of $5 billion in grants and $10 billion in loan guarantees to keep the airlines flying after they suffered millions of dollars in losses due to the attacks and the government's grounding of all U.S. flights for almost a week. The money goes to the companies.

Union leaders lobbied for the bailout bill, in the expectation that keeping the airlines aloft would keep airline workers on the job - but the airlines are not doing so.

Instead, they're firing more than 100,000 workers, including crew members represented by the Air Line Pilots Association and the Association of Flight Attendants.

The latest blow came Sept. 25: American Airlines immediately laid off all 1,000 former TWA maintenance workers at New York's Kennedy airport, plus an unspecified number of pilots and crew members. That was on top of 20,000 people American previously said it would fire.

The terrorists commandeered two American and two United jets for the attacks.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney called failure to include airline workers in the bailout bill "an unconscionable, divisive and economically irresponsible omission."

Congress decided "to stiff airline industry workers in the bailout bill - even as they award protections to airline executives for their golden parachutes,"Sweeney said.

"But it is workers and their families who are taking a direct and immediate hit from the terrorist attacks,"and the ensuing layoffs, he noted.

Airline workers are not the only sufferers from firings due to the terrorist attacks. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) reports that more than 1,000 members worked at the World Trade Center as security guards, cleaners, janitors, tour guides, window washers and day porters. They're now jobless.

Two window washers working on the 102nd floor of one of the towers were killed in the collapse, and 24 other SEIU-member cleaning workers are missing, as are 40 public employees from a joint SEIU-Teachers affiliate.

The missing workers are not covered by any of the bailout legislation, the union notes. Nor are the surviving workers who lost their jobs when the twin towers collapsed. SEIU is trying to help them by raising a $1 million tax-deductible relief fund.

In Congress, three pieces of legislation were introduced last month to address the plight of workers displaced by the effects of the terrorist attacks. All are similar to House Resolution 2946 introduced by Representative Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., and Melissa Hart, R-Pa., and co-sponsored by Oregon's Darlene Hooley. Each would provide extended unemployment insurance benefits, job training benefits and payments for continued health insurance coverage for laid-off workers in the airline industry and those whose layoffs were caused directly or indirectly by the decline in airline travel.

"We urge your support for the broadest possible assistance to the economic victims of the terrorist attacks,"Oregon AFL-CIO President Tim Nesbitt wrote to Oregon's congressional delegation Sept. 28, encouraging them to extend federal assistance to all affected workers in the airline industry, its manufacturers and suppliers and in the hotel, restaurant and tourism sector as well.

Nesbitt urged special consideration for assistance in meeting health insurance costs, which for many families equals or exceeds the value of unemployment insurance benefits.

"Health care for America's working families should not be added to the casualty lists of the Sept. 11 attacks. If you are willing to provide massive financial first aid for corporations and their shareholders, you should also provide a health care safety net for displaced workers and their families,"said Nesbitt.

Washington U.S. Representative Brian Baird, speaking at the Labor Roundtable of Southwest Washington awards banquet Sept. 28, said his fellow Democrats tried to include in the airline bailout bill benefits for workers, but were stopped in their tracks by Republican Whip Tom Delay. Baird said as details of the $15 billion bailout package got to helping workers Delay stepped in and abruptly stopped the negotiations. "He said this is as far as you're going to get,"Baird said. "We were put in a bind."

He said all the Republican leadership would offer was a commitment to "take up"legislation that would address the concerns of the displaced workers. Baird said in the wake of the attacks, unity among the citizenry and Congress is important, but he said Democrats "will not compromise our fundamental principles in the name of unity."

"This is big money taking care of big companies but not taking care of the people who really need help coping with the loss of their jobs,"said Charles Bofferding, executive director of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 2001, which represents 25,000 Boeing engineers in Washington state and Wichita, Kansas. After the attacks and the subsequent grounding of all air traffic, the airlines sharply cut orders for new planes, pushing Boeing to announce layoffs of 20,000 to 31,000 workers over the next two years.

Despite lobbying by Washington Democratic Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Governor Gary Locke, the bailout bill "saves companies but not people,"he said.

The Oregon AFL-CIO is encouraging union members to contact their representatives in Congress and urge their support for HR 2946 and the related bills introduced by Senator Jean Carnahan, D-Mo., and Dick Gephardt, D-Mo.

Senator Gordon Smith

503-326-3386 (Portland)

541-278-1129 (Pendleton)

541-465-6750 (Eugene)

Senator Ron Wyden

503-326-7525 (Portland)

503-589-4555 (Salem)

541-431-0229 (Eugene)

Rep. Earl Blumenauer


Rep. David Wu


Rep. Darlene Hooley


Rep. Peter DeFazio


Rep. Greg Walden


(Editor's Note: Press Associates Inc. of Washington, D.C., and the Oregon AFL-CIO's Weekly Reports contributed to this report.)

October 5, 2001 issue

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