Airline workers on food stamps? Union targets American Airlines subsidiary in fight for livable wage

Five days a week, Takisha Gower leaves her Euless home for her 6 a.m. shift as a passenger service agent at DFW International Airport, where she’ll spend the next several hours boarding flights, helping people who’ve missed connections and, occasionally, talking down a customer who’s having a really bad day.

Although the passengers bought their tickets through American Airlines, Gower works for the company’s Envoy Air subsidiary, which operates regional flights for the Fort Worth-based carrier under the American Eagle brand.

After 18 years with Envoy, Gower makes $15.71 an hour,  half what someone with similar duties makes at American’s mainline operation, according to the Communications Workers of America, which represents Gower and 3,800 other Envoy agents.

“It’s really stressful. Some bills I have to put on scheduled payments that I know will hit after my check deposits,” said Gower, a mother of five, three of whom still live with her and her husband. “With clothes, I would wash and hang them up instead of putting them in the dryer to make sure they last longer.”

Gower’s pay still tops that of many of her co-workers, 75 percent of whom earn less than $13 an hour, according to an online survey of 900 members published by the union Wednesday. In addition to manning airport gates, passenger service agents work on the ramp, helping guide planes on the tarmac and handling bags.

Starting pay for these employees, about 500 of whom work at DFW, is as low as $9.48 an hour, with a guaranteed $1 increase after the first year but no other guaranteed raises for the next 10 years .

As many as one in four rely on public assistance, including food stamps, to make ends meet, the survey found. To get by, employees tell of borrowing from their retirement accounts, selling plasma and using GoFundMe drives to cover medical bills.

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