The nearly 2 million member union submitted comments to the Department of Transportation this week
The Service Employees International Union submitted comments last week to the US Department of Transportation regarding the increasingly scrutinized joint venture by American Airlines and JetBlue Airlines. SEIU joins a range of other groups who have expressed concern over the agreement, including the American Antitrust Institute, Travelers United and Airports Council International – North America. Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that the US Department of Justice has begun an anti-trust probe in connection with the airlines’ joint venture.
SEIU’s comments expressed concerns regarding the impact of increasing consolidation in the US airline industry and the potential impact on workers, including airline contracted workers represented by the union. SEIU’s comments read, in part:
SEIU supports the request for a public interest review of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (“Department”) approval of the American Airlines and JetBlue Northeast Alliance joint venture agreements (“NEA”) and joins in the concerns expressed by various stakeholders. SEIU requests that the Department conduct a full, transparent public review of the American Airlines and JetBlue Airways joint venture agreement. The US airline industry was already highly consolidated and this alliance, particularly without a full review, threatens to further undermine competition, creating potential harms for consumers and workers in the aviation industry. Any action by airlines that may further limit competition deserves a thorough review which allows the public and industry stakeholders to comment.
SEIU has organized 35,000 contracted aviation service workers. These workers, who are largely people of color, immigrants and women, are on the frontlines of our nation’s aviation system, keeping cabins clean, airports secure and elderly and disabled passengers cared for–even through a global pandemic, climate disasters and busy travel seasons. Though these workers are employed primarily for contractors hired by the airlines, it is the airlines themselves who wield power over this highly fragmented workforce.
The comments expressed particular concern regarding the lack of a public process for a review of the joint venture, which was approved in the final days of the Trump administration and did not include a process for input from stakeholders. SEIU’s comments argued that, “The Department’s decision to forgo public comment and the opportunity for interested persons to review the agreement deprived a wide variety of stakeholders, including frontline airport workers, the opportunity to raise concerns.”
In 2020, American Airlines spent more than $4.4 million in federal lobbying. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that, in the 2020 cycle, contributions from American Airlines totaled more than $3.9 million.
SEIU expressed particular concern regarding the potential impact on workers of further consolidation among airlines, As SEIU explained in its comments,
Wages, benefits, and working conditions for these employees can vary by airport and by company. With this joint venture increasing American and JetBlue’s combined power at a number of key airports, it creates the risk that they could act as if they were a monopsony employer. A recent paper by Alan Krueger of Princeton University and Eric Posner of the University of Chicago Law School argued that “labor market collusion or monopsonization – the exercise of employer market power in labor markets – may contribute to wage stagnation, rising inequality, and declining productivity in the American economy.”
 Note that according to the Center for Responsive Politics, “The figures on contributions include the company PAC as well as employees and their families who made contributions to candidates, party committees, other PACs, outside spending groups or 527s in the current cycle.” https://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/american-airlines-group/summary?toprecipcycle=2020&contribcycle=2020&lobcycle=2020&outspendcycle=2020&id=D000067697&topnumcycle=2020