Brown Urges Airline CEOs to Improve Subcontractor Pay, Benefits

Senator’s Plan to Restore Value of Work Highlights Increased Use of Subcontracted Employees by U.S.-Based Airlines

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) is pushing for better wages and benefits for subcontracted workers at the nation’s major airlines. As airline executives testify on Capitol Hill this week in front of the House Committee on Transportation, Brown and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) sent letters to the CEOs of ten major airlines urging them to improve the pay and benefits of their subcontractor workforce.

In March, Brown unveiled a new plan to help restore the value of work, which noted the increased use of subcontractors by airlines over the last several decades, especially to fill their lowest-wage jobs. In an effort to cut costs and boost profits, the airline industry has increasingly outsourced its on-the-ground service workers, subcontracting positions like baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, and wheelchair attendants. While these workers are required to abide by many of the standards of the airline they subcontract for, they often receive minimal pay and benefits and lack basic workplace protections.

Brown’s plan highlights how increased use of this practice has contributed to the declining value of work in the U.S. Brown has advocated for better protections for subcontracted workers and his plan offers specific policy changes to help expand benefits for them. 

In letters to the CEOs of American, Alaska, Allegiant, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Spirit, Southwest, and United Airlines, Brown wrote: While companies insist on strict adherence to company policy by its subcontracted workforce as it relates to employees’ activities and procedures, these same requirements too rarely extend to worker protection measures. Shielded from industry labor standards and oversight, wages in these positions have fallen dramatically…”

Further, the subcontracted workers at many airports, including Cleveland Hopkins International, often go without basic workplace protections, the Senator added. Brown and Booker asked the airline executives to provide more information on their subcontracted workforce, including the number of subcontractors and their pay, benefits, and working conditions.

The letter comes while airline executives from Alaska, American, Southwest, and United testify in front of the House Committee on Transportation about customer service issues across the industry this week.