Flight attendant union boss blasts White House, Democrats, and GOP for failing to reach new stimulus deal

Adriana Belmonte
·Senior Editor

The government’s failure to reach a new stimulus deal trickles down to not only struggling Americans waiting for another round of stimulus checks but also entire industries that employ tens of thousands.

The pandemic hit the travel industry harder than most as travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders led to significantly decreased air traffic. According to TSA data, as of October 13, the number of travelers was down over 109% year over year.

“We are feeling complete and total whiplash,” Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants, said about stimulus negotiations that have continued for months (video above). “Because we have been at the center of this. And airline workers are being used as a pawn in the negotiations right now. We are the thing that everyone seems to agree on but nobody can seem to close the deal on.”

Flight attendants wearing face masks wait for passengers, as EasyJet restarts its operations amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at Gatwick Airport, in Gatwick, Britain June 15, 2020. REUTERS/Peter Cziborra
Flight attendants wearing face masks wait for passengers, as EasyJet restarts its operations amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at Gatwick Airport, in Gatwick, Britain June 15, 2020. REUTERS/Peter Cziborra

‘There has never been such a crazy time in Washington’

The CARES Act, the pandemic stimulus deal passed in March, allocated $25 billion for passenger air carriers, $4 billion for cargo air carriers, and $3 billion for contractors with the condition that the funds be used to pay employee wages, salaries, and benefits. Air carriers and contractors were also prohibited from conducting involuntary furloughs or pay rates/benefits cuts until September 30, 2020.

Fight attendants (among many other airline employees) are now beginning to be furloughed. As of early 2020, there were approximately 750,000 airline workers in the U.S.

“Real people are feeling that whiplash... exacerbated with the fact that this government can’t get this done,” Nelson said. “I talk to people who’ve been up here for decades, who’ve said that there has never been such a crazy time in Washington.”

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 22: Association of Flight Attendants International President Sara Nelson joins airline executives, fellow union heads and political leaders to call on Congress to pass an extension of the Payroll Support Program to save thousands of jobs, during a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol September 22, 2020 in Washington, DC. Set to expire on September 30, the PSP -- a mix of grants and loans worth about $50 billion -- gave a lifeline to the airline industry after the global coronavirus pandemic shut it down.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
AFA President Sara Nelson joins airline executives, fellow union heads and political leaders to call on Congress to pass an extension of the Payroll Support Program to save thousands of jobs September 22, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Trump previously indicated that he would be open to providing another $25 billion in relief for airlines as part of stimulus negotiations, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) stated that a standalone bill wouldn’t be passed unless it would be part of a bigger package.

“We’ve heard from the White House, from the Democrats, from the Republicans, everyone in between, both Houses, that they all support us,” Nelson said. “But nobody can seem to make locking in our jobs and the critical infrastructure of the airline industry a law. So, I do want to remind everyone that this is a jobs and infrastructure program.”

‘This is not a political assessment’

About 32,000 employees have been furloughed since the CARES Act protections expired on Oct. 1, and that number is expected to keep growing until a deal is reached.

“That means that they’ve been making less,” Nelson said. “That means that, more likely, they’ve been living paycheck to paycheck, have not had a lot of time to put savings together, have not had a lot of time to have an individual cushion. ... They’re real people who are really scared, who are losing their homes, who are losing their health care, who are losing any sort of future security, who are burning through their savings just to try to get by right now and don’t know that they’re going to be able to recover and take care of their kids for the long term.”

Flight attendants wearing face masks sanitise their hands inside a plane at the Zaventem International Airport, as Belgium eases restrictions aimed to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, near Brussels, Belgium June 15, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Flight attendants wearing face masks sanitize their hands inside a plane June 15, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Nelson stressed that when it comes to the airline industry and the affects on regular Americans, this is not a political issue.

“This is not a political assessment,” Nelson said. “This is real people. And we are Americans and we are in the middle of a crisis. In every other crisis time in America, we have pulled together. And we’ve had leadership that has pulled us together. We’re absolutely missing that leadership right now. So someone has to step up and lead.”

Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.

READ MORE:

Follow Yahoo Finance on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flipboard, LinkedIn, YouTube, and reddit.