WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) reintroduced a bill that targets the harmful trend of companies outsourcing labor to contractors and temp workers rather than hiring direct employees, a problem that is particularly pervasive in the airline industry. The Airline Accountability Act would require air carriers participating in the City Pair Program, which is used by federal employees to travel for work, to disclose labor violations committed by them or their subcontractors. Air carriers would be ineligible from participating in the City Pair Program if they are found to have repeated, willful, or serious labor infractions.

For years, the airline industry has increasingly outsourced its good-paying jobs, such as wheelchair attendants, baggage handlers, and cabin cleaners, to contractors, many of whom underpay workers and violate safety and labor laws. From 1991 to 2015, the proportion of air transport workers employed by airline contractors and subcontractors has soared from 16 percent to 31 percent. From 1991 to 2011, average weekly wages for air transport workers fell by 14 percent, and today, more than one-third of cleaning and baggage workers live in or near poverty. 

Outsourcing also allows airlines to avoid liability and deflect responsibility for the labor violations committed by their contractors.

“The increasing use of contract work by airlines is an alarming trend that drives down wages and workplace standards for all workers,” Sen. Brown said. “These jobs should be an opportunity for people to earn a fair wage and provide for their families – not an opportunity for airlines to drive down wages.”

“Airlines are engaged in a pernicious ‘race to the bottom’ as they outsource vital functions of air travel, like cleaning airplanes and handling bags, to the lowest bidder,” Sen. Booker said. “The result is subcontracting firms that exploit their workers and retaliate when those workers protest or try to organize to demand fairer treatment. This is wholly unacceptable. There must be more federal oversight of companies committing these abuses and we need stricter safeguards in place to prevent abuse.” 

In 2017, Brown and Booker wrote to nearly a dozen airline CEOs, including American Airlines, urging them to improve the pay and benefits of its subcontracted workers.

The Airline Accountability Act cracks down on airlines that display a callous disregard for the safety and rights of their workers. The bill leverages the multi-billion dollar air travel market by withholding contracts from airlines who disregard labor laws.

Specifically, the bill does to the following:

  • Requires airlines competing for contracts with the GSA City Pair program, which governs the vast majority of federal employee travel, to disclose to the Department of Labor any labor law infractions by the airline themselves as well as by any of their contractors in the preceding three years.
  • Empowers the Secretary of Labor to determine corrective measures by airlines and/or their contractors to remain eligible for the City Pair program.
  • Requires the Secretary of Labor to prepare a list of airlines that are ineligible for City Pair contracts for that year based on serious, repeated, willful, or pervasive violations of labor laws.