Unions Say ‘Breeze Airways’ Blows An Ill Wind

The nation’s cadre of mostly female flight attendants is facing a new threat – the idea that their job can be performed by college students at a fraction of the cost

Breeze Airways, a new airline operating out of Salt Lake City, Utah, is partnering with Utah Valley University to hire full-time college students to work as flight attendants while they pursue their degree through on-line classes. The airline offers “tuition reimbursement” and provides housing through the program, which is called Flight Academy.

Breeze was started by David Neeleman, who also founded JetBlue. It began operating with a fleet of 60 planes last month.

Ageist? Racist?

Breeze’s hiring plan is opposed by the Association of Flight Attendants – CWA, which notes that 70% of the student population at UVU is under the age of 30 and approximately 78% are Caucasian. CWA alleges Breeze’s hiring plan has a discriminatory impact on minorities and older workers.

Additionally, the union argues the airlines is placing public safety in the hands of “inexperienced students.”

The CWA has marshalled support from the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, and the Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO to ask the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to oppose the plan. The unions filed a “petition for review” with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) last month asking it to “review” its approval of Breeze to operate as a commercial airline.

For a profession that had an established reputation for discriminating against older workers throughout history and that has only recently begun to combat these ingrained, ageist behaviors, Breeze’s recruitment strategy is more in line with historical standards rather than modern ones.

Union Complaint

Although DOT already has approved Breeze’s operating plan, the unions argue that a party with a substantial interest that would be adversely affected by the approval is entitled to file a petition for review. They demand that “Breeze demonstrate how it plans to adhere to the anti-discrimination requirements” of federal law.

“The Labor Parties represent the interest of flight attendants and have spent decades working to end gender, racial and age discrimination for flight attendants,” they state.

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