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Passenger Service Agents at American Airlines Subsidiary Take Concerns About Poverty Wages to the National Stage

21 Feb, 2018

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 21, 2018

Passenger Service Agents at American Airlines Subsidiary Take Concerns About Poverty Wages to the National Stage

New survey of Envoy Air agents reveals widespread reliance on public assistance, extreme measures used to get by like selling plasma. Elected officials call on American to raise pay as agents go directly to passengers and taxpayers with nationwide advertisements, events at social services offices.

NATIONWIDE — A new survey of 900 passenger service agents at an American Airlines wholly-owned carrier shows that 27 percent of respondents must rely on public assistance to make ends meet and many are forced to go to extreme measures to cover basic living expenses, including selling plasma, buying out-of-date food and borrowing
against retirement accounts. Despite American Airlines reporting $1.9 billion in profits in 2017, agents at the subsidiary, Envoy Air, are paid as little as $9.48 an hour.
The survey is the first to examine pay issues at the carrier and validates the growing concerns expressed by Envoy agents who are bargaining for their first union contract, as well as more than 80 members of Congress.

As agents at Envoy who have been negotiating for a new contract for nearly two years continue to face financial hardship, they are taking their calls for fair pay to travelers with a multi-state roster of events and advertising, while elected officials sound an alarm on the pay practices of the company that is posting record profits and raking in benefits from corporate tax cuts. In Dallas (where American Airlines is headquartered) and Houston, hundreds of agents will gather on Wednesday and Thursday at Texas Health and Human Services Commission offices to speak out about the problems they face.

“While profits churn at American Airlines and executives enjoy massive tax cuts, the hardworking passenger service agents at Envoy Air are forced to rely on taxpayer-funded assistance programs and take extreme measures like selling their own plasma to scrape by,” said Chris Shelton, President of the Communications Workers of America (CWA).
“Envoy agents, their union family and elected officials are standing up to say we’ve had enough of American Airlines shortchanging working people. American Airlines CEO Doug Parker can end this financial crisis for thousands of families right now and pay all passenger service agents family-supporting wages.”

The agents and their union are also reaching out to passengers nationwide with a digital advertising campaign that will begin running on Thursday urging them to help “End poverty wages at American,” with links to a petition urging American Airlines to pay all its passenger service agents a living wage. The social media portion of the campaign includes short video clips of agents explaining how low wages have affected their lives. The Envoy agent survey shows extensive reliance on public assistance programs, such as food stamps, among Envoy agents because of chronic low wages. The survey was conducted online between February 5 and February 15, 2018, with 900 Envoy agents participating and more than eighty Envoy airport locations represented.

Additional findings include:
-Among agents who are not on public assistance, 82 percent of survey participants said they rely on help from family and friends often in the form of financial assistance, child care or a place to live.

-Only 13 percent of participants said their Envoy wages were enough to get by.
Food stamps were reported as the most commonly-used form of public assistance (20 percent of all survey participants), followed by Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) at 16 percent.

Open-ended questions resulted in hundreds of first-hand accounts and testimonials from agents detailing the extreme measures they must take in order to cover everyday living expenses, including:
-Using food pantries, buying discounted out-of-date food, and sometimes going without meals: “I shop every other week to make sure our food lasts until the next paycheck. I will most of the time only eat one meal a day to make sure my family can eat all three,” stated an agent at Milwaukee International Airport

Selling personal objects and selling plasma: “I work 3 jobs and donate plasma twice a week to make ends meet,” said an agent at Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport in Kansas
Borrowing from retirement accounts: “I have had my home go into foreclosure a couple of times in the last 10 years and have had to do loan modifications and borrow money from family and my 401k to keep my home… I stay here because it is cheaper than renting,” described one agent at Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, Kentucky American Airlines – through its lobbying arm – supported the recently-passed “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” and suggested it “will spur a new era of job growth and economic development.” In addition to a small benefit in 2017, the company anticipates tax refunds of $170 million in 2019 and 2020 as a result of the repeal of the Corporate Alternative Minimum Tax. As detailed recently in the New York Times, the company announced a one-time bonus for employees but has refused to address the main issue for workers and raise pay to ensure permanent, sustainable worker wages.

More than three-thousand eight hundred passenger service agents at American Airlines subsidiary Envoy Airlines work at some of the nation’s biggest and busiest airports as well as smaller regional airports that connect flyers to travel destinations around the country.

They provide services essential to ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience for flyers, such as managing pre-flight checks, de-escalating tense situations and helping passengers re-book their flights during inclement weather. Low wages, long hours and challenging working conditions are fueling significant turnover among Envoy agents, leading to tens of thousands of dollars in unnecessary training and hiring costs for the company. The work done by agents at Envoy and American’s other regional carriers is also an increasingly vital component of the company’s overall business health, with regional subsidiaries and affiliates operating 53 percent of American’s flights and bringing in 75 percent more revenue than the mainline carrier per available seat mile.

In recent weeks and months, agents and other CWA members rallied at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Philadelphia International Airport, Douglas International Airport in Charlotte and Orlando International Airport to talk with passengers about their poverty-level pay and tell American to support living wages. By speaking out and standing up, agents at American are winning pay increases for themselves and their families. Last month, 4,600 CWA-represented workers at another American Airlines subsidiary, Piedmont Airlines, won major raises, improved benefits and other gains in a new tentative contract agreement.


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