Subscribe via RSS Feed

Tag: "labor"

Labor Day I

[ 54 ] September 2, 2013 |

This fine Labor Day, I want to run a series of posts remembering the great history of work and the lack thereof in American music. For the first post, here’s some Dave Alvin. A former member of The Blasters and X, Alvin has a long history of writing about unions and work in song during his long solo career. Here’s an early example, “Brother on the Line.”

Also from his first solo album is “Jubilee Train,” a good example of remembering how great the New Deal was for the American working-class.

During the Bush years, he wrote “Out of Control,” which he would dedicate live to the Dick Cheney economy:

Finally, on his latest album, Alvin wrote one of the best songs about working people in the last several years, “Gary, Indiana 1959″ about the 1959 steel strike:

It’s also worth remembering that today is anniversary of the Rock Springs Massacre, so this is a good time to remember that the history of American work is very much also the history of immigration and racial oppression.


[ 65 ] August 30, 2013 |

John Logan has five reasons you should be optimistic about unions this Labor Day.

First, most Americans hold favorable views of unions. According to a June 2013 poll by the Pew Research Center, 51 percent of Americans hold favorable views of labor unions, a 10 percent increase from the number in the same poll conducted two years earlier. This is first time since January 2007 that a majority of the public has viewed unions favorably. 80 percent of “liberal Democrats” hold favorable views on unions. Women, minorities and youth – key groups for organized labor — hold the most pro-union attitudes. There is no straightforward relationship between public approval for unions and union growth, but the labor movement must figure out how to bring into its fold the majority of Americans who like unions.

Second, bucking national trends, union membership in California increased by a whopping 110,000 members in 2012, even as it fell by 368,000 nationwide. Much of the increase in California, which has the nation’s largest number of union members, was among healthcare workers and Latino workers. In several other states with growing Latino populations, membership grew more modestly, but these states may soon follow California’s lead.

Third, some of the nation’s most vulnerable workers have been standing up for decent wages and working conditions. Wal-Mart workers and warehouse workers under contract with Wal-Mart have gone out on strike around the country. Port truckers in L.A. and Long Beach voted to unionize, as did carwash workers in L.A. and New York, and taxi drivers in New York. Following the examples of New York, Hawaii enacted a domestic worker “Bill of Rights” and California may soon do the same. Fast food workers — most of who are adults working for little more than $10 per hour — have walked off the job in New York, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Seattle. They won’t be able to bargain with their employers anytime soon, but few would have predicted their brave job actions last year.

Fourth, after years of Republican obstructionism, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has a full compliment of five members for the first time under the Obama administration. The NLRB election system provides weak protection for workers’ right to organize, and its influence has been severely constrained by the courts, but it remains an important bulwark against recalcitrant employers who violate workers’ fundamental rights.

Finally, as demonstrated by next week’s “open convention,” the AFL-CIO and its affiliates are more flexible, imaginative, and inclusive than ever before. They have embraced the struggles of domestic workers, carwash workers, Wal-Mart workers, fast food workers and others. They have formed deep alliances with the NAACP, National Council of La Raza, Sierra Club, religious organizations, and other groups that support basic justice for American workers. And they have played a key role in lobbying for federal legislation that benefits all workers – healthcare reform, equal pay legislation, immigration reform, an increase in the minimum wage and paid sick leave.

Other than maybe active growth in California, I’m not sure any of this means all that much in terms of growing union power. A functional NLRB is a good thing, making meaningful, alliances is very important (although what that means in terms of concrete results I’m not sure), and I’m certainly glad fast food workers are standing up for themselves. But sweet icing can’t cover up a cake poisoned by nearly a half century of capital mobility, ideological attacks on unions, and corporate regulatory capture.

Work Them To Death For No Good Reason

[ 231 ] August 29, 2013 |

Some of you probably caught this last week, but the death of this intern is extremely disturbing:

Serious concerns have been raised tonight about the punishing hours endured by interns at City investment banks following the death of a young Bank of America Merrill Lynch employee.

Moritz Erhardt, 21, was nearing the end of a seven-week internship in London when he collapsed at home after working until 6am for three days in a row.

Around 300 interns working at various banks stay at the Claredale House student accommodation complex in Bethnal Green in east London for between seven and 10 weeks over the summer. One intern, who did not want to be named, told The Independent those in Mr Erhardt’s investing banking division group faced the longest hours.

He said: “We all work long hours, but the guys working regularly until 3am or 4am are those in investment banking. People working in markets will have to be in at 6am but not stay as late, so what time you can leave the office depends on your division.

“You’re only doing it for up to 10 weeks so there’s a general acceptance of it. I see many people wandering around, blurry-eyed and drinking caffeine to get through but people don’t complain because the potential rewards are so great. We’re competing for some very well-paid jobs.”

There are at least 3 major problems here. First is the exploitation of interns. The most serious example of this doctors and the pointless grotesquely long hours they are forced to serve during their internships, potentially putting people’s lives at risk. Can you imagine pilots having to fly 24 straight hours? Within the financial industry, there’s even less of a reason for this. What do financial workers have to do that’s so important? The answer is impress the employer enough to let them into the inner sanctum of full-time employment, which is the second problem. This is all about the brutality and masochism of our capitalists. You want to work for a company as awesome as Bank of America? Prove it. Do whatever we tell you to do. This is macho hazing and little more. The third problem is the general expectation of extreme hours and massive personal sacrifice that has come out of the tech industry and infected much of our work culture. Americans today will simply volunteer to work 60, 70, even 80 hours a week at a salaried job, simply because it is so ingrained in the culture that no one questions it.

Our national work culture of the twenty-first century is highly disturbing and needs serious reform. Bank of America effectively murdered this guy but they will go completely unpunished and do the same thing to next summer’s intern class.


[ 9 ] August 29, 2013 |

Well, doesn’t this just make you feel comfortable about the safety of our workplaces and our communities:

A Dallas Morning News analysis of more than 750,000 federal records found pervasive inaccuracies and holes in data on chemical accidents, such as the one in West that killed 15 people and injured more than 300.

In fact, no one at any level of government knows how often serious chemical accidents occur each year in the United States. And there is no plan in place for federal agencies to gather more accurate information.

As a result, the kind of data sharing ordered by President Barack Obama in response to West is unlikely to improve the government’s ability to answer even the most basic questions about chemical safety.

“We can track Gross National Product to the second and third decimal, but there is no reliable way of tracking even simple things like how many [chemical] accidents happen,” said Sam Mannan, a nationally recognized expert on chemical safety who recently testified before a congressional hearing on West.

Let’s be clear, this is intentional. Corporations don’t want you to know where things are produced or under what conditions. Business has ensured that the relevant government agencies that could effectively track this information remain chronically underfunded. We can blame government and there’s no question that it isn’t enough of a priority for either political party. But one party is opposed to the sheer existence of these agencies and that makes it awfully hard to craft an effective regulatory system.

America’s Deadliest Job

[ 14 ] August 28, 2013 |

I’m sure the timber industry is glad it retook its historically appropriate title America’s most dangerous job.

An excerpt from my book manuscript draft, part of which explores the history of worker safety in logging. Sadly, things aren’t always so different today:

On August 28, 1905, Clise Houston reached to clear an obstruction from the saw he worked when he fell into it, killing him. Finnish immigrant John Koski found a job with the Simpson Logging Company in a camp near Matlock, Washington. On June 18, 1904 nearby tree fallers shouted “Timber!” He did not move and the tree landed directly on top of him, crushing him beyond recognition. Koski had no family in America and his co-workers had no way to inform his relations in Finland of his demise. The company paid for the burial. Karl Carlson worked in the Anderson & Middleton mill in Aberdeen, Washington. In 1905, a belt fell off its course and Carlson tried to guide it back on to the pulley with a shovel. The shovel became entangled with the belt and he lost control of it. The machine tore the shovel from his hands and plunged it, handle first, through his body. Carlson died the following day, leaving behind a wife and child.

Many workers survived their grievous wounds. Morris Campbell worked in J.E. Nichols’ sawmill in La Conner, Washington. In the last days of 1899, he caught his arm in a mill saw. It was amputated at the shoulder. In 1900, Frank Lang lost most of his left hand running a band saw in the Centralia Shingle Mill in Centralia, Washington. In 1901, Martin Boyer’s foot got caught in machinery in a Centralia mill. Doctors amputated. In a nation without a social safety net, injured workers often fell through the cracks into a lifetime of poverty. Workers like Campbell, Lang, and Boyer faced grim futures as disabled persons, as did many people disabled on the job before the passage of the Civilian Vocational Rehabilitation Act in 1920, which provided occupational training and job placement for those injured on at the workplace.

Guaranteed Basic Income

[ 60 ] August 28, 2013 |

Matt and I have had our share of arguments over how to create a better life for working people, but I mostly endorse his statement about Guaranteed Basic Income.

The minimum wage typically gets debated in terms of econometric studies about disemployment impacts. But the problem with the minimum wage isn’t the alleged disemployment, it’s the freedom. Imagine a worker earning just slightly above the minimum wage, and also working under some kind of conditions that he finds annoying. He goes to the boss and asks for a change. Turn the heat up a little in the winter. Or let him pick which music plays rather than sticking with some dumb playlist that’s been assigned from the top down. Or get a more comfortable chair. Or manage the line this way rather than that one. There are dozens and dozens of little non-wage decisions in any given workplace that impact a person’s happiness and life satisfaction. But the manager looks at it and says there are sound business reasons for sticking with the status quo. Now the problem with the minimum wage is that even if the worker values the change much more highly than he values an extra 2 cents an hour, he’s not allowed to trade 2 cents an hour for an improvement in his working conditions.

Conversely, I strongly suspect that one reason empirical studies often don’t disemployment effects of minimum wage hikes is that there are a lot of non-wage dimensions to the employer-employee relationship along which things can change.

The problem with no minimum wage, however, is that the kind of freedom involved in allowing for unconstrained wage bargaining is that “the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” The ideal solution to these problems, however, lies not in the workplace but outside of it. Exactly where King and Henry George thought it belonged—in guaranteeing to everyone a minimum standard of living whether or not they work. With that in place, employers will face a de facto minimum job quality. Your job has to beat “unemployment + living off the GBI” rather than “unemployment + homelessness.” You can reach that job quality threshold with money. Or you can reach it by providing valuable training and experience for the future. Or by having a really enjoyable atmosphere of some kind. Realistically, it’ll be a mix.

There are multiple reasons for the minimum wage, which I obviously think should be much, much higher. But part of it is that it was an achievable victory during the New Deal in a way GBI never was. It was part of the piecemeal construction of workers’ rights that reached its pinnacle between 1938 and 1965. Union recognition was also central to that and what people often forget about unions is that they weren’t only or even predominantly about wages, but about dignity at the workplace.

Matt brings up the example of the chair. Let’s expand on that. In the 1970s, the International Woodworkers of America, the union that makes up the heart of my logging book manuscript, fought very hard for the ergonomic workplace. The IWA made alliances with workers and scholars and researchers in Japan, Sweden, and Germany to bring ergonomic timber mills into the Pacific Northwest. This was part of a larger attempt to empower workers on the shop floor through enforcing OSHA regulations. The IWA was among the nation’s leading unions in this task; whereas many unions chose to focus on other issues or fell for job blackmail and employer propaganda that OSHA regulations would force companies to move factories abroad (which they were planning on doing anyway), the IWA centered these issues and made real differences in workers’ lives. If you have GBI, unions could focus even more on the importance of dignity at the workplace, however workers themselves define it. Everyone’s life is better.

As for Henry George’s Single Tax, as I’ve stated before, such one-trick ideas were too simplistic for the modern workings of capitalism, even though that simplicity appealed greatly to 19th century Americans who believed so strongly in the system and just wanted it tweaked to put it back in control of everyday people. But moving toward a tax or a system that would provide GBI is a noble goal. Once you have Guaranteed Basic Income, the world of working-class possibilities opens up. You can work to raise the GBI. Or, if it is at a respectable level, you can fight for an ergonomic workplace, the importance of which can’t be overstated for those who have suffered from its lack.

Yet Another Example of the Huge Differences Between the Two Parties

[ 23 ] August 27, 2013 |

In a Democratic administration, OSHA makes alliances with women’s groups to improve health and safety for women who work in construction.

In a Republican administration, OSHA is controlled by industry hacks who prioritize industry profits over keeping workers alive.

Glad to see OSHA make this step. Won’t change the world, but it’s positive.

In Case You Needed Another Reason to Not Drink Yuengling

[ 119 ] August 26, 2013 |

Yuengling owner Dick Yuengling, Jr. is an anti-union extremist who thinks Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett is “a great man,” hates unions, and is leading the Keystone State fight to make the state right to work.

I have to carry on with my normal behavior and avoid drinking that overrated swill.

Can the AFL-CIO Organize Texas?

[ 80 ] August 25, 2013 |

Very interesting.

I do agree with the belief that Texas is uncharted country for progressives and Democrats more broadly. For the labor movement, this makes tremendous sense. For one, despite the extremist right-wing politics of Texas, Latinos are so dominant in the border and are so pro-union that it is a huge opportunity to turn south Texas into hardcore union country. Also, the growing numbers of Latinos in Texas combining with the relative progressive mindset (at least on social issues) of young people suggests some real possibilities going forward. This has to be a long-term strategy. Texas isn’t going blue in 2016. But the fundamental conditions on the ground are changing and moving on strategies for the next 20 years is really important. Let’s hope the federation’s commitment is serious.

This Day in Labor History: August 25, 1921

[ 36 ] August 25, 2013 |

On August 25, 1921, the largest labor insurgency in American history and the largest civil uprising since the Civil War began in Logan County, West Virginia when 10,000 miners and their supporters went to war with 3000 coal mine executives and their hired thugs. The Battle of Blair Mountain is one of the least known major events in American history.

By 1921, little had changed for several decades in the coal mining country of West Virginia. The coal companies ruled over this area like a medieval fiefdom, having almost total control over workers’ lives. They issued company scrip to shop at company stores, evicted workers from company housing if they went on strike, brutally crushed union attempts to organize the mines, and murdered union organizers. They hired goons to intimidate miners and spies to infiltrate union organizing effort. The United Mine Workers of America struggled to maintain a hold in West Virginia; in fact the UMWA throughout Appalachia had a rollercoaster of a membership for decades, with numbers skyrocketing after rare victories and collapsing after the inevitable oppression that followed.

Such a widescale rebellion took place in the aftermath of an event far more famous thanks to the John Sayles film detailing it, the Matewan Massacre, when Baldwin-Felts thugs got into a gun battle with the worker-sympathetic law enforcement officers of the town of Matewan. In 1921, the coal industry got their revenge on Mingo County sheriff Sid Hatfield, who had participated at Matewan, by murdering him on the steps of the McDowell County Courthouse in Welch. That was on August 1. On August 7, the UMWA issued a petition of workers’ demands, including the arrest of Hatfield’s murderers, to West Virginia governor Ephraim Morgan. Morgan rejected them out of town and workers’ anger grew.

On August 20, armed men began gathering in Kanawha County, outside of Charleston and by August 24, 13,000 miners had arrived fully armed and ready to demand justice. While alarmed politicians began working toward compromise, Logan County sheriff Don Chafin wanted blood. Supported by the Logan County Coal Operators Association, Chafin hated the UMWA and wanted to eliminate them from his country entirely, preferably with the maximum shedding of blood. The coal operators provided Chafin a hired army of 3000 people to oppress the miners. On the request of Governor Morgan, President Warren Harding had sent General Henry Bandholtz to West Virginia on August 25. Bandholtz told union leaders the army would “snuff them out” if they did not end the march, leading many prominent UMWA figures, including Mother Jones to urge the end of the action to prevent fatalities. Although on August 26, many of the miners agreed to return to their homes, Chafin wanted to his pound of flesh. His men began shooting union members as they returned to their homes, with families caught in the crossfire.

A bunker used by the coal miners’ private army.

When news of Chafin’s duplicitious and murderous violence reached miners, they exploded. Several days of sporadic fighting followed between Chafin’s army and the miners. The coal operators hired private planes to drop homemade bleach bombs and other munitions on the miners. The U.S. military clearly showed itself on the side of the mine operators. General Billy Mitchell ordered U.S. army planes to conduct aerial surveillance of the difficult terrain and report back to the mine owners, possibly the first time that planes were used by the U.S. army against American civilians. Over the next week, about 30 of Chafin’s troops died as did probably about 100 miners.

An unexploded bomb dropped by the coal company army on the miners, displayed by those it meant to kill.

The Battle of Blair Mountain ended when Harding sent in U.S. troops to put down the revolt. Fearing massive death, UMWA leader Bill Blizzard ended the revolt on September 2 and told his members to return to their homes, which they did, attempting to hide the guns in the dense mountains. As normal during the pre-New Deal period, UMWA membership followed the fortunes of organizing, with membership plummeting from 50,000 to 10,000 after the suppression of the uprising.

In the aftermath, 985 miners were indicted and tried for charges including murder and treason against the state of West Virginia (who knew you could commit legal treason against a state). The charges against most were dropped. A Baptist minister and his son who led a party that killed three members of the coal companies’ army did serve three years in prison, before a new governor, Howard Gore, pardoned them. Some argue that while the Battle of Blair Mountain was a total loss for the UMWA, the attention it garnered about the lives of coal miners helped build support for the major labor reforms of the New Deal, of which no one benefited more than the United Mine Workers of America.

Some years later, Chafin was arrested on corruption charges and served time in federal prison for bootlegging.

Why is the Battle of Blair Mountain so unknown, in comparison to other big labor events of the period? It’s a combination of reasons. First, the coal companies and their lackey West Virginia politicians worked very hard to keep news of this under wraps, even into the present. The state long refused to acknowledge the existence of this event with even a basic historical marker, although that has finally been rectified. I’m not sure that even today the event is taught in West Virginia history courses in schools, even though it is one of the most important things to ever happen there. Second, it was a total defeat for the union, although that hasn’t stopped other major losses like Homestead and Pullman from becoming iconic events. Third, it was rural West Virginia and not urban Chicago or Pittsburgh. We rarely think about rural people or rural issues in anything more than the abstract. West Virginia is isolated and you have to really work to get out to Blair Mountain, whereas anyone in New York can wander over to the site of the Triangle Fire and the giant factories of Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania serve as visual representations of the struggles of labor past. Blair Mountain has none of this.

Today, the site of the Battle of Blair Mountain is highly endangered thanks to the coal companies’ insatiable desire to take every rock out of West Virginia. The site is on the chopping block for a mountaintop removal operation of the type that is the latest iteration of how the industry has exploited the labor and nature of West Virginia for the last 150 years later. The lack of public knowledge about the important history that happened on the site assists the coal companies in their desire to mine it.

The likely future of the site of the Battle of Blair Mountain

This is the 74th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Can’t Take No More

[ 9 ] August 24, 2013 |

“Can’t Take No More,” a 1980 film about workplace health and safety narrated by Studs Terkel is just incredible and very much worth watching, both for its footage of early 20th century workplaces as well as its discussion of contemporary issues and how OSHA empowered workers.

The film takes on an optimistic tone. But already by 1980, corporations were moving their plants from the United States to Mexico, Taiwan, and South Korea, and later to Honduras, Bangladesh, and China precisely to recreate the days of the Triangle Fire, when they could profit handsomely off workplace death without any repercussions. Americans suffer from a lot less workplace disease than they used to, but that’s because Americans have a lot less steady work. Ultimately, it will take internationally enforceable workplace health and safety standards, with workers around the world able to sue companies in the corporate country of origin, to make corporations accountable. Maybe one day, if I live long enough, I might see that.

This is also a good time to note that just yesterday, OSHA issued new regulations on silica that could save up to 700 lives a year by preventing silicosis, a disease that plays a big role in “Can’t Take No More.”

….IB in comments: “People talk a lot about the Supreme Court (very sensibly) and war-and-peace (a little less so, sad to say) as reasons to keep voting for Democratic presidential candidates, but honestly it’s things like those OSHA regs on silica that have led me to hold my nose and support the Lesser Evil presidential candidate. On the margin, lives are on the line.”

Could not say it better myself. When people say that the two parties are the same or say we should throw our votes to Republicans because of this or that issue they’ve decided is the one who matters, I say they are showing the privilege to ignore the consequences of the issues the two parties are in fact quite different on, such as workplace safety. No McCain or Romney administration would be issuing those new silica regulations. That stuff matters a lot.

This Day in Labor History: August 22, 1945

[ 55 ] August 22, 2013 |

On August 22, 1945, five airline stewardesses, as they were then called, formed the Air Line Stewardesses Association, wanting a labor union to give them a voice on a demanding, difficult job where they faced constant pressure about their bodies, poor working conditions, low pay, and restrictions on marriage status and age.

The position of flight attendant began on May 15, 1930, when a woman named Ellen Church worked at what was then known as a “skygirl.” Women worked very hard, but had to look glamorous while doing it. They spent hours on their feet, dealt with drunk passengers, bent and reached and stooped over. A pedometer worn by one stewardess on a 1948 flight from Chicago to Miami showed she walked eight miles during the flight. The career itself wasn’t glamorous—but it had to look glamorous to the passengers. Rather than train the hostesses, airlines required them to pay for their own training with private services, at least one flight attendant paid $325 to a private school for stewardess training in Kansas City in 1948.

The sexualized nature of this work meant that woman had to uphold physical standards so that the ancestors of fictional Don Draper could enjoy their flight. There were strict requirements around height, weight, and appearance. The woman had to remain single. Moreover, there was a forced retirement on your 32nd birthday. In other words, airlines used young women to sell sexual allure to male customers, who were then expected to choose conventional lifestyles and marry. The 1951 film Three Guys Named Mike followed a flight attendant played by Jane Wyman around her adventures of love and travel until she settled down with one of the Mikes, a small-town science professor where she could perform traditional duties of domesticity.

Working conditions could be quite unpleasant. Planes were smaller, slower, and flew at much lower altitudes than today. That meant long turbulent flights with a lot of passengers vomiting from motion sickness. Flight attendants had to manage this, getting thrown around from turbulence and sometimes crawling through vomit. Pay was very low, about $125 a month in 1944, which is the equivalent to $1630 a month today or slightly less than $20,000 a year. Moreover, the pay was weighted on 100 hours of air time, but various duties on the ground raised it to a real 150 hours, meaning 50 effective unpaid hours a month. There were very small numbers of male flight attendants as well, mostly on international flights, but they were losing their hold in the profession by the 1940s and many airlines refused to hire them.

Ada Brown had the idea to start the union. She was United’s chief stewardess and was angry about the airline’s unwillingness to make improvements. She later remembered, “As chief stewardess I tried to get improvements for the girls with salary, flight restrictions, and protection from unjust firing. We were always promised things, but nothing was ever done—except to throw parties for the stewardesses.” She found four friends to join her—Edith Lauterbach, Frances Hall, Sally Thometz, and Sally Watt. Lauterbach joined United in 1944. Like many women, she planned to work for a year, see a bit of the world, and quit. Instead, she became a union activist and fought to stay in the air, even after her age reached 32.

Within a few months, three-quarters of United attendants had signed up and by August 1945, the ALSA had established local councils in 4 cities, had elected officers, and drafted a constitution. ALSA became the new frontier in pink-collar labor activism, where professional and semi-professional women organized their professions, including telephone operators, waitresses, teachers, and social workers. The ALSA conceived of itself as elite labor and as such demanded respect. The first issue of the ALSA newspaper Service Aloft in October 1946 notes, “The airline industry seems to think they are doing a favor when they give a person a job as a steward or stewardess. They are prone to forget that these people have done more to sell airplane traveling to the American people than any other single factor.”

Thus began a multi-decade movement consisting of thousands of women, often new workers in a field with high turnover and severe rules that restricted long-term employees. It was a long hard struggle for flight attendants to reach the point they are at today. The union won its first contract in 1946, when United increased pay to $155 and agreed to limited hours, set rest periods between flights, and a grievance procedure. In 1947, ALSA President Ada Brown married and became a victim of United’s rule against marriage, forcing her to resign from both her work and the union. The union not only had to deal with these issues, but also significant sexual harassment from pilots, a group with which the union had a complex and not altogether productive or friendly relationship. A former TWA flight attendant remembered pilots making “unofficial girdle checks” on the attendants. The pilots union started their own subsidiary within the flight attendants and forced the ALSA to merge with it in 1949. Several breakoff movements took place over the years, with most of the attendants forming what is today Association of Flight Attendants in the late 1970s, although the AFA did not get a charter from the AFL-CIO until 1984.

The age requirements did not go away until 1968, after flight attendants used Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to challenge discrimination. At that point the average career of a flight attendant was only 18 months. The union pushed the airlines to end the marriage requirement as well, to which courts agreed in 1971, at the same time they opened the profession to men. The weight requirements were loosened in 1979 after more union pressure. The union pressed to apply OSHA rules to airplane labor, end bans on pregnant attendants, promote cabin safety measures for both passengers and workers, and helped kill a 1981 FAA plan to reduce flight attendants in each flight.

Today, the AFA is a part of the Communication Workers of America, a merger it undertook after post 9/11 layoffs. The union represents about 60,000 workers.

The last surviving member of the 5 flight attendants to start the ALSA, Edith Lauterbach, died in February at the age of 91. She retired from the airlines in 1986, the first woman to serve more than forty years as a flight attendant.

Edith Lauterbach

Those interested in learning more should read Kathleen M. Barry’s Femininity in Flight: A History of Flight Attendants, from which I drew a good bit of this post.

This is the 73rd post in this series. Other posts are archived here.

  • Switch to our mobile site