American Airlines, the world’s largest air carrier, is enjoying a boom in business. Everything is fantastic, as the company made almost $2 billion in profits in the fiscal year 2017 alone. The airline lobbied hard for tax cuts, which its executives are now receiving increased stock options and millions in bonuses.
Meanwhile, in the tale of two economies, the airliner has a dirty secret that it does not want to share with the public: it pays poverty wages to thousands of its service professionals at Envoy Air, who make less than $11 per hour, and must rely on food stamps plus blood plasma donations to survive, said the Los Angeles Times.
Envoy Air is a wholly-owned subsidiary of American Airlines, which provides support operations to the American Airlines route network under the American Eagle brand. Envoy has more than 3,800 passenger service workers at 100 locations across the country. Envoy agents are the lowest paid in the airline industry starting at $9.48 per hour — slightly above poverty pay levels.
Envoy employees told the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the largest communications and media labor union in the United States, they must rely heavily on government assistance programs because their wages are at poverty levels, rather than a living wage.
The terrifying aspect of this situation are the thousands of Envoy employees across the country, who are in poor economic standings and poor physical health. This could alter their critical thought process while handling commercial jetliners at airports, thus, perhaps, put passengers in danger.
Here are some of the tasks agents are in charge of:
Managing pre-flight checks
De-escalating tense situations with travelers and customers
Helping passengers re-book their flights during inclement weather or last-minute cancellations
Guiding planes on the tarmac
This spurred the CWA to conduct a national survey of 900 Envoy Agents (a quarter of all Envoy agents participated) between February 5 and February 15, 2018, which provides a shocking view of the link between poverty wages at the airline, and the use of public assistance to supplements agents’ primary income.
According to the CWA, “the survey shows that low wages at Envoy have driven widespread use of taxpayer-funded assistance programs among agents, with many agents feeling the company’s compensation cannot cover basic living expenses.”
Here are the shocking results:
Only 13 percent of survey respondents said they felt their wages provided enough to get by.
Twenty-seven percent of survey participants said they rely on some form of public assistance, with some using more than one type of assistance.
Food stamps were reported as the most commonly-used form (20 percent of all survey respondents), followed by Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) at 16 percent.
Seven percent of all Envoy agents who participated in the survey said they use heating assistance and two percent said they used cash assistance.
Agent Testimonials: First-Hand Accounts of Extreme Measures Taken to Support Families
According to hundreds of testimonials, Envoy agents take extraordinary measures to survive and provide for their families — working more than one job, using payday loans, and or even selling blood plasma.
Deviana’s Story | End Poverty Wages at American Airlines | CWA Video
“American Airlines pays poverty wages to thousands of working people at Envoy Air like Deviana. Some are even forced to rely on food stamps and other forms of public assistance just to get by,” said CWA.
Angelica’s Story | End Poverty Wages at American Airlines | CWA Video
“American Airlines pays poverty wages to thousands of working people at Envoy Air like Angelica. Some are even forced to rely on food stamps and other forms of public assistance just to get by,” said CWA.
Charlie’s Story | End Poverty Wages at American Airlines | CWA Video
“American Airlines pays poverty wages to thousands of working people at Envoy Air like Charlie. Some are even forced to rely on food stamps and other forms of public assistance just to get by,” said CWA.
Nicole’s Story | End Poverty Wages at American Airlines | CWA Video
“American Airlines pays poverty wages to thousands of working people at Envoy Air like Nicole. Some are even forced to rely on food stamps and other forms of public assistance just to get by,” said CWA.
A spokeswoman for Envoy refused to comment on CWA’s findings, saying, “Out of respect for the integrity of the collective bargaining process, it’s not appropriate to comment on the status of any provisions under discussion at this time.”
While many Americans will benefit from the Trump tax cut, it is becoming increasingly obvious that many low-income Americans will be left behind. Take, for example, the American Airlines poverty pay fiasco, as management celebrates record success through further financialization, its employees over at Envoy are being left behind, and are barely making enough money to survive.
Charles High Smith explains our economy’s toxic inequality below:
This is only possible in a financialized economy in which finance has become increasingly detached from the real-world economy. This is how we’ve ended up with an economy characterized by profound dysfunction in the real world of higher education, healthcare, etc., and immense fortunes being earned by a few at the top of the pyramid from the financialized games that have little to no connection to the real-world economy.
Anyone who thinks our toxic financial system is stable is delusional. If history is any guide (and recall that Human Nature hasn’t changed in the 5,000 uears of recorded history), this sort of accelerating income/wealth/ power inequality is profoundly destabilizing–economically, politically and socially.
All the domestic headline crises–culture wars, opioid epidemic, etc.–are not causes of discord: they are symptoms of the inevitable consequences of a toxic financial system that has broken our economy, our system of governance and our society.