Press Releases

Chair Larsen Opening Statement at Aviation Subcommittee Hearing on “Oversight of Working Conditions for Airline Ground Workers”

Washington, DC, January 15, 2020

House Aviation Subcommittee Chair Rick Larsen (WA-02) delivered the below opening statement at the House Aviation Subcommittee hearing entitled “Oversight of Working Conditions for Airline Ground Workers.” You can view Chair Larsen’s opening statement here.

Remarks as prepared for delivery

“Good morning and thank you to the witnesses for joining today’s hearing on working conditions for airline ground workers. 

“In my time on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I believe today is the first hearing dedicated to issues facing ground workers: the women and men who load baggage, clean cabins, assist passengers in wheelchairs and prepare meals, among other jobs.

“Without ground workers, commercial air travel would come to a halt. That is why the House passed major pro-worker legislation last year to support the hardworking women and men who literally keep the airline industry and the economy moving.

  • The Butch Lewis Act, which passed the House in July, protects hard-earned workers’ pensions and long-term financial security.
  • The Raise the Wage Act, which also passed the House in July, supports American workers by raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by the year 2025.
  • It is my hope the House will soon vote on the Protect the Right to Organize, or PRO Act to strengthen workers’ right to organize, bargain collectively and hold employers who violate workers’ rights accountable.

“A strong economic foundation for workers requires fair and secure workplaces.

“While progress has been made, Congress must do more to provide oversight for and improve the pay and working conditions of ground workers—the two main issues I want to focus on at today’s hearing.

“Even as the airline industry continues to grow and more people than ever are choosing to fly, not all ground workers are sharing in the benefits.

“Today, the Committee will hear from labor representatives about the tens of thousands of ground workers who make less than $15 an hour—some making under $10 an hour—working long days and nights in catering kitchens or on airport tarmacs.

“The Committee will also hear stories highlighting the unsafe and unhealthy conditions many ground workers face.

“For instance, a recent Communications Workers of America (CWA) survey of 900 passenger service agents at Envoy Air, a regional subsidiary of a large mainline carrier, revealed that 27 percent of respondents rely on some form of public assistance, often food stamps.

“An April 2019 investigation by the Miami CBS affiliate revealed troubling safety and health issues in the Miami operation of a major ground-support provider.

“Workers reported cockroach infestations in vans transporting blankets and other supplies to aircraft and were instructed “not to waste time cleaning [cabins] too thoroughly,” even when the workers encountered biohazards in airplane cabins.

“A federal investigation found the company was also exposing its employees to heat that “was causing or likely to cause harm.”

“The Committee will hear from Mr. Esteban Barrios about his personal experience as an employee for that company. 

“We will also hear from Miami-Dade County Commissioner Eileen Higgins, who is on the front line in Miami in the effort to secure better working conditions for ground workers at the Miami airport. I look forward to their testimony. 

“Unfortunately, these are not isolated incidents. These reports speak to the social responsibility—and unwavering commitment to safety—expected of all firms engaged in aviation.

“A representative of Airlines for America is with us today, and I look forward to hearing his perspective on how airlines will work to ensure ground workers are compensated fairly and protected from unsafe working conditions.

“The 21st century U.S. aviation system is deeply interconnected.

“Safety lapses on the ground threaten safety in the air.

“That is why it is imperative for Congress to further explore these issues.

“In a time of record airline profits and a record number of passengers traveling by air, there is an obvious disconnect when a growing number of ground workers cannot enjoy the benefits of a system that thrives on their backs of their labor.

“It is my hope today’s hearing will shed light on this committee’s opportunity to improve the safety culture of the entire aviation industry.

“A safer, fairer work environment for ground workers will create a safer, stronger aviation system for workers, passengers and airlines alike.

“Thank you again to today’s witnesses. I look forward to our discussion.”