Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Union Demands Reinstatement of Regional Airline Flight Attendant Fired After She Told Media That She Qualifies for Food Stamps

Kirsten Arianejad was fired last week by Compass Airlines after she stated in a television news report that she makes so little that she qualifies for food stamps, even though she works a full-time schedule for that regional airline.

[By the way, I think (see below) that there's a free speech issue here that labor unions are in a unique position to address for their members.]

It is not clear to me exactly what specific reason Compass gave for firing the woman, and if in fact it was specifically stated that she was dismissed because of her comments about low pay and food stamps.

So I'll update when I have specifics.
[UPDATE: Please see reader comment below].
The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents Compass flight attendants, is demanding that the airline reinstate her.

The union, which certainly has access to her termination letter, which would state the specific reason for dismissal, did not quote from that letter -- which strikes me as odd.

The union says that the starting wage for Compass flight attendants is between $13,842 and $15,453 a year. As the union points out, that salary does make Arianejad qualified to receive food stamps in Arizona, where she lives.

Regional airlines like Compass -- which operates flights for Delta Air Lines -- account for about half of all domestic flights, under contracts with major airlines.

The horrific crash early last year of a regional aircraft flown for Continental by Colgan Air, in which 50 died near Buffalo, brought attention to the poor wages and often difficult working conditions of flight crews for regional airlines.

Compass hasn't had any comment yet on the situation. Arianejad, however, is apparently no shrinking violet when it comes to stating her views. This page on appears to be hers, and indicates that she is active with an Arizona-based movement called Patriotic Resistance, which has views that can accurately be called Tea Party-views.

Today, the local representing 16,000 United Airlines flight attendants joined in the call for the reinstatement of Arianejad. In a letter to Compass Airlines officials, the United master executive council president, Greg Davidowitch, called the firing a "serious mistake" by the company, which is currently in labor negotiations with its flight attendants.

"It seems there are two problems to fix here," Davidowitch wrote. "First, Kirsten must be reinstated and her record cleared. Second, your labor relations [department] needs to get serious at the bargaining table to reach a tentative agreement that will be ratified by Compass Flight Attendants because it provides them with a living wage and fair compensation for their work at Compass."

It would also probably be a good idea, it seems to me, for the unions to get Compass (and other airlines, if necessary) to clearly state what their policies are about employees speaking to the media or otherwise saying something about their jobs in public.

Also, given the spread of online social networking, it might behoove the airline flight-crew unions to get airlines nailed down firmly on any sanctions they might consider levying against employees who state any views publicly, including political views, that the company does not feel comfortable with. While employees who are not represented by unions are effectively at the mercy of their employers on free-speech issues, unions can hold companies' feet to the fire on these things, and should. In specific contract language.

In general, it's been my experience that pilots and flight attendants are free to talk, on the condition that they not be identified by company. But if some company afraid of employees' public comments or views can violate that understanding with impunity, it will.

I would think a union has a responsibility to get that spelled out so there is no room for confusion when some executives get their knickers in a twist about something an employee says in the media -- or even some political views that employee might espouse in the social-networking realm.



Tiffany Hawk said...

While some airlines are more open, others forbid employees from speaking with the media about anything, ever. When I worked for United, we weren't allowed to talk, and I know my friends who are still there can't comment publicly even without mentioning their airline.

Anonymous said...

Kirsten was not identified when she did the initial television interview. After making a comment regarding food stamps on her Facebook page, one of her Facebook 'friends' forwarded the comment and a seperate video link to the television interview. So it would seem that the company put two and two together.