"The Workers, Once Again, Seem to Have Fallen by the Wayside:" The Impact of September 11th on Airline Workers
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“The Workers, Once Again, Seem to Have Fallen by the Wayside:” The Impact of September 11th on Airline Workers

The economic impact of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center most immediately affected workers in the airline and tourist industries. The airlines, like much of the U.S. economy, were already experiencing an economic slowdown after the boom years of the late 1990s. Within weeks of the attack, airlines laid off tens of thousands of workers and threatened to lay off more. President George W. Bush and the U.S. Congress quickly responded, offering $5 billion in cash grants and promising more. Earlier precedents, such as the $1.5 billion government bailout for the Chrylser Corporation in 1979–80, were based on the need to avoid severe job losses and economic turmoil, yet in the case of Chrysler nearly half of the hourly workers lost their jobs despite the bailout. In this interview, “Joshua DeVries,” an airline employee, describes workers’ reaction to the lay offs and government response.

Listen to Audio:

DEVRIES: We had word that it was probably going to happen, then a couple of weeks ago, I got in the mail, the, it wasn’t pink, but it was a big slip that said you’re laid off December second. So I have a job until then. The airlines are still planning on laying off tens or over a hundred thousand people. Some of them are beginning to decide that maybe they don’t need to lay that many off. U.S. Airways is not made that decision, they are still going ahead willy nilly and laying off as many people as they can get pink slips to. Southwest Airlines for example is laying nobody off, so it obviously doesn’t strictly have to do with economics that there are other things going on here.

The Congress was very quick in rushing through $5 billion in cash and $10 billion in loan guarantees for the airlines. They then started saying well maybe we should pass something for the workers, something to extend unemployment benefits, something to extend health benefits or training. And they started talking about at least $3 billion. Then they said, well maybe $1.9 billion. And now it’s not even clear if they are going to pass anything at all. They’re talking about further bailouts for other industries possibly, the service industry, things related to the travel industry. The workers, once again, seem to have fallen by the wayside.

Most people think that this money is being used to preserve people’s jobs. I mean there was an incredible furor when American Airlines announced that it wasn’t going to be giving severance packages to people who were laid off and they were forced by the public outcry and they are doing that now. But most people think that that money should be used to preserve jobs, and it’s not it’s being used to preserve stock prices.

Another factor is security, I mean this is going to affect security. With fewer people working it is going to affect the security on the plane. Another thing if people hate their job, if they’re being treated like this they are not going to feel happy about their job. They are not going to feel secure, they’re going to be nervous, so it’s going to affect the level of security. But it’s also there’s a greater issue most people in this country are working people. Most people have to work for a living. You can’t affect part of the economy without affecting the whole thing. When you lay people off in airline[s] those people go into the job market. The more people in the job market the lower wages industry can pay because it drives down wages for everybody. If you kick people out of the airline industry they’re going to be looking for jobs in some other industry. Companies will use that to drive wages down. They like high unemployment. High unemployment allows them to look for the lowest possible, you know, the person who will take the lowest amount of pay to do job. So it’s not just going to affect us, in the short term, yeah we’re the ones who are going to be hammered, us and the people in the service industry, but in the long term it’s going to affect the entire economy like whenever there’s a lay off.

I mean a downturn in the economy sounds like a natural thing, it sounds like its raining, the economy is down. It is a conscious decision to do this. Laying people off doesn’t happen because the humidity rises, water condenses and it falls. It’s a conscious decision made by somebody, a manager to take people’s jobs. Those jobs are seen rather than being the property of the worker as being the property of the company. The airline industry is seen as the airplanes and the executives. The airline industry is the people who work here and every industry is that way. We’re the ones who make it.

Source: Interviewed by Simin Farkhondeh, November, 2001
Courtesy of Labor at the Crossroads