With Another Shutdown Looming, Flight Attendants Plan Demonstrations on February 16

Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Congressional negotiators told Politico on Friday that they’re working on a deal that will prevent a second government shutdown on February 15. If they fail — or if President Trump again refuses to accept whatever compromise they reach — hundreds of thousands of federal workers and subcontractors will find themselves without income once more. The last shutdown ended, in part, because workers revolted: After missing two paychecks, ten air traffic controllers called in sick, an absence significant enough to severely delay air traffic in New York City and Washington. Now, as another shutdown looms, workers are preparing for the worst. Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, told New York on Friday afternoon that her union is working with labor partners to plan a series of demonstrations in major airports around the country on February 16.

Nelson, who called for a general strike in response to the last shutdown, offered manifold reasons for this new call to direct action. “Our union has worked really hard to address several safety issues in the workplace that have been longtime priorities, and we actually achieved 18 of those priorities in the FAA reauthorization bill that was signed into law this past October. But those items have not been implemented, because there’s been a shutdown,” she said. “So we can’t even get to our parochial issues because we’ve got this incredible threat to our fundamental safety and security and the entire industry’s ability to operate.” Nelson previously told New York on January 25 that her union intended to “mobilize immediately” if the shutdown continued; hours later, legislators reached a compromise that reopened government for three more weeks.

In anticipation of another shutdown, Nelson says that the union will be out leafleting in airports in 80 major cities next week ahead of Saturday’s demonstrations. “We are also working very hard to get information out to all of our members about what’s at stake. We need people to fully understand what the issues are so that we can be prepared to respond potentially with withholding our service, if that’s what it takes to stop a continuation of the shutdown,” she added.

The AFA isn’t working alone. Nelson cites the American Federation of Teachers as “a very strong ally” in addition to Unite Here, which represents many federal subcontractors who have still not received backpay for paychecks withheld during the shutdown. Reached by phone on Friday afternoon, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, told New York that AFT is “very concerned” about the shutdown’s impact on both the aviation industry and its unions. “We are working together to do what is impossible to do alone,” she said.

Even if negotiators reach a deal that keepsthe government open, Nelson says there will still be demonstrations on February 16, though those protests may “differ in size and scope” if a second shutdown does not occur. Subcontractors still need backpay, and the union wants the provisions of the FAA reauthorization bill implemented. “We need a government that works. And just avoiding a shutdown that is a risk and a tremendous burden and a betrayal of millions of Americans is a really low bar,” she said.

The Union That Ended the Shutdown Is Preparing to Protest