The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is tapping the IAM and other labor unions for guidance on new measures to help combat the recent rise in passenger violence, an issue with growing public attention due in-part to a string of viral videos documenting the incidents.
The FAA recently held a roundtable discussion with the IAM and several other unions representing airline workers. The IAM, the largest airline union in North America, has been a staunch advocate for increased safety measures for the workforce. The IAM was successful with including language in the FAA reauthorization bill to address assaults on customer service agents, which now awaits FAA full implementation.
The union has been part of other recent federal agency roundtable discussions about airline worker safety, as well as the IAM supporting U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) for urging the agency to take swift actions like civil enforcement and steep fines to help thwart the growing number of assaults on airline employees.
DeFazio’s correspondence to the FAA also referenced the agency’s own data showing steep increases in air rage incidents subject to enforcement this year. There have been 628 such incidents in 2021 as of August 6, nearly twice the previous peak of 310 in 2004.
The FAA’s recent roundtable included IAM Transportation Coordinator Edison Fraser, who urged the agency to also focus on ground crews like customer service agents, often overlooked in comparison to flight crew members like pilots and flight attendants.
“These are workers like ticket agents who are the first contact for people who enter the airport,” Fraser said. “There’s been a lot of focus on the flight crew, but the safety of the ground crew is equally important. These are hard-working men and women who deserve the same protections.”
Enforcement and Education
Enforcing facemask mandates has spurred some violent incidents. The task of ensuring passengers comply with the mandate should not solely fall on the shoulders of customer service agents, but also be enforced by TSA agents “which would be no different than when they enforced unattended bags,” Fraser said.
Fraser also urged the federal agency to remedy loopholes in jurisdictions between federal and local law enforcement, an issue that comes into play when pursuing and prosecuting a person after they leave the airport grounds following a violent incident.
Fraser also urged the FAA to do more to educate the public that assaulting airline workers is a federal crime.
“There was a lot of education after the 9/11 attacks, such as public address announcements and even billboards alerting people to be aware of and report suspicious bags or activity,” Fraser said. “We can do the same public awareness, which explains that assaulting an airline worker is a federal crime.”
The FAA roundtable marked just the latest outreach effort by IAM’s Transportation division in recent months.
In July, Chief of Staff to the International President Richard Johnsen took part in an Aviation Labor Recovery Roundtable call with FAA Administrator Steve Dickson and U.S. Transportation Department Deputy Secretary Polly Trottenberg.
Johnsen then urged participants on the call to share the union’s urgency to address low staffing to increase safety and protection of workers.
Workers Demand Safety
Johnsen and Fraser have also been fielding questions and concerns about safety from members in recent months as they’ve been holding a series of site visits across the U.S.
The visits, part of a new IAM Transportation Department program, has been a key to gaining the first-hand concerns of members from coast-to-coast.
“These are hard-working men and women who have been on the frontlines since the COVID-19 pandemic started. They work tirelessly to help ensure passengers get to their destination safely,” Johnsen said. “These workers deserve the upmost safety while doing their job. Our top priority is to keep fighting to make sure every member is safe on the job.”
“Our members deserve the right to work in an environment where they can focus on great customer service, not fear of being attacked by passengers,” said IAM International President Robert Martinez, Jr. “We are proud to be shaping policies that will ultimately help ensure our hard-working members are protected on the job.”