Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Flight Attendants Sue FAA Over OSHA Protections

By strange coincidence, I wore my OSHA NOW shirt to the gym today. It was given to me in 2000 by the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) when then Assistant Secretary for OSHA Charles Jeffress signed Memorandum of Understanding with then Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Jane Garvey, promising to address the workplace safety and health problems of flight attendants.

Today, five years later, the AFA-CWA filed a complaint in District Court against Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao and FAA Administrator Marion Blakely "for their failure to ensure the health and safety of flight attendants and other employees working in the airline industry."
The root of the problem is Section 4(b)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act which states that if a federal agency claims that it has jurisdiction over the health and safety of its employees, then OSHA can't enforce the law in that agency -- even if the agency is doing a lousy job. In 1975, the FAA claimed jurisdiction over the health and safety of crewmembers on civil aircraft, yet has failed to enforce basic standards. OSHA, nevertheless, was kicked out of the picture.

Flight attendants suffer from a number of workplace health and safety problems and no one is dealing with them:
Flight attendants encounter a wide variety of occupational hazards while working aboard commercial flights including turbulence, severe changes in cabin air pressure, unwieldy service carts, exposure to toxic chemicals, unruly and sick passengers, threats of terrorism and emergency evacuations. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, flight attendants suffer injuries and illnesses four times more frequently than workers in private industry and more than twice as often as those in construction.

After the FAA had repeatedly ignored flight attendants' requests to address these problems, the Association of Flight Attendants filed a petition in 1990 asking the agency to adopt selected OSH Act safety regulations. Seven years later, the FAA responded that AFA-CWA’s issues did not constitute an immediate safety concern and denied the petition due to "budgetary constraints."

But in 2000, Jeffress and Garvey signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) under which both agencies agreed to establish a procedure for coordinating and supporting enforcement of the OSHAct with respect to the working conditions of employees and aircraft operations, and for resolving jurisdictional questions. But that process has fallen apart under the Bush administration.

AFA-CWA’s complaint asksthe court to issue an order declaring that the FAA has failed to exercise its asserted jurisdiction to establish occupational health and safety standards for flight attendants and crewmembers. And, as a result, the Secretary of Labor has failed to fulfill her statutory duty under the OSH Act to ensure healthful working conditions for flight attendants.

And so the neverending story of public employees being treated like second class citizens continues.