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Time to Derail Norwegian Airline Scheme

Congress may be on break, but this month the Obama administration faces a watershed decision with huge implications for the global aviation industry and its workforce.

By Aug. 31, the Department of Transportation (DOT) must rule on Norwegian Air International’s (NAI) application for an exemption that would allow it to begin transatlantic service in the U.S. before it has formally been granted a permit to do so. If approved, the exemption would allow NAI to move forward with a low-road operating model that will undermine good jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. It is time for our government to derail this scheme.

TTD, its member unions, and labor movement partners abroad have said it before and we’ll say it again: there is no reason for this exemption to be granted. While NAI is Norwegian in origin and ownership, the airline will operate as an Irish air carrier while hiring flight crews who will be based in Thailand and employed on individual employment contracts with a Singaporean hiring agency. All that, and the airline won’t even be flying into or out of Ireland. It’s just to avoid the application of strong Norwegian labor and social laws and to lower the bar on labor standards. (See illustration from the Airline Pilots below)

NAIgraphic-top

In doing so, NAI is trying to circumvent the U.S-EU Open Skies Agreement and usher in a Walmart-style race to the bottom for cheap labor. Opposition to NAI’s scheme has been mounting in Washington, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle signaling their discomfort with an arrangement that flouts existing trade agreements and weakens our recovering economy. In June, the House of Representatives unanimously approved an amendment to the FY 2015 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act that declared that expansion of our airline trade relationships must not come at the expense of our laws and U.S. jobs. NAI specifically lobbied against that amendment, making the company’s aims abundantly clear.

Since then, members of Congress have continued to demonstrate their opposition to NAI’s exemption. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Daniel Coats (R-Ind.) stated in a letter to President Obama earlier this month that “NAI’s request raises serious concerns that DOT should not ignore,” and that DOT’s ruling “is a matter of critical importance to the future of the U.S. aviation industry, airline workers and our national economy.” And to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wrote that approving either the exemption or Norwegian’s application for a foreign air carrier permit “will destroy tens of thousands of middle class jobs.”

Klobuchar, Coats, and Pelosi are right. The United States has signed more than a hundred bilateral ”Open Skies” agreements that have opened new markets for U.S. airlines. As the international aviation marketplace continues to grow and become more interconnected it is imperative that Congress and the administration ensure that future aviation growth doesn’t come at the expense of American jobs.

If approved, NAI’s scheme would launch a dangerous race-to-the-bottom that will hollow out the U.S. airline industry and decimate thousands of middle class airline jobs. The DOT should say no to this destructive vision for American aviation and our nation’s role in the global aviation marketplace.

Ed Wytkind is president of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department.

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