Evoking the spirit of Martin Luther King, the president of a 50,000 strong flight attendant union has called for a general strike to bring to an end the longest ever partial U.S. government shutdown in history. Sara Nelson, who heads the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) warned the entire aviation system could “unravel” within days and “massive flight cancellations” could follow in time to stop fans getting to the Superbowl in Atlanta.
“There is a humanitarian crisis unfolding right now for our 800,000 federal sector sisters and brothers who are either locked out of work or forced to come to work without pay due to the government shutdown,” Nelson told a rally in Washington D.C. on MLK remembrance day.
“The situation is changing rapidly. Major airports are already seeing security checkpoints closing. Many more will follow. Safety inspectors and federal cybersecurity staff are on furlough, not working. The layers of safety and security that keep us safe are not in place due to the shutdown.”
“I have a growing concern for our members’ safety and security.”
Her solution is for all Americans to come together in a General Strike that could bring the world’s largest economy to its knees. Many flight attendants have already expressed their concerns about aviation safety during the shutdown and it’s likely that Nelson’s words will have resonated with many of her members who work at 20 airlines across the U.S. including Chicago-based United Airlines.
Nelson argues that workers across the country have to think big in order to effect positive change – she points to Marriott hotel workers who managed to win a significant pay raise from the company after holding a months-long strike to make their voices heard.
Nontheless, calls for a government shutdown are on a totally different scale and could wreak havoc. If Nelson doesn’t win support for a general strike then she could still ballot her members to hold a mass flight attendant walkout – that in itself could cripple the U.S. economy and force the Administration to find a solution to end the shutdown.
The latest figures from the TSA show that absenteeism at the government agency is currently running at over double the rate as during the same period a year ago. The TSA admits that many of its employees are unable to attend work due to “financial limitations”.
Many other workers at the Federal Aviation Authority, air traffic control, and customs and border protection are either furloughed or working without pay.