Why Airline Labor Unions Support Hillary Clinton for President - TheStreet

In the late 2000s, the Association of Flight Attendants was trying to expand the Federal Medical Leave Act, which requires large employers to offer unpaid leaves for reasons such as illness or care of a newborn, so that it would cover flight attendants.

The union worked with key legislators, starting with Hillary Clinton, then a senator from New York.

Clinton "was the original sponsor of technical corrections to the FMLA so that flight attendants and pilots could qualify," said AFA President Sara Nelson. "If it had not been for her initial advocacy, we could not have gained recognition as quickly."

Nelson, then a United Airlines (UAL) - Get Report AFA leader, worked with Clinton's staff to make a technical correction in the 1993 FMLA, which defined the number of hours required to qualify in a way that left out flight attendants and pilots, whose hours are calculated differently than most other workers. In 2009, President Obama signed the Airline Flight Crew Technical Corrections Act.

"AFA doesn't believe any politician will magically fix everything for us," Nelson said. "What we want is a president who will give us a level playing field and work against discrimination and sexism. And it would be great to have a woman president."

AFA formally endorsed Clinton on Wednesday.

Not surprisingly, airline labor unions uniformly back Clinton over Donald Trump to be president. "She has a history of supporting the platform of the IAM and voting with labor," said Sito Pantoja, general vice president of transportation for the International Association of Machinists, the largest airline union with more than 100,000 airline members including about 30,000 at United.

"As senator from New York, {Clinton} made it very obvious that she supports enhancing social security, not privatizing social security, and that she wants to enhance health care benefits for workers," Pantoja said. "These are things that have an effect on our members."

Additionally, Pantoja said, Clinton's intent to boost infrastructure spending would benefit the airline industry with spending for airport improvement and upgrading air traffic control.

IAM made Clinton an honorary member in 2008, endorsed her in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, and endorsed her for president in August 2015.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the second-largest airline union with 80,000 airline members, endorsed Clinton for president in August 2016. "She will stand strong for the workers of America by fighting to reject job-killing trade deals, enforcing labor laws and working to provide retirement security for millions of people," said President Jimmy Hoffa, in a prepared statement.

The Transport Workers Union, the third-largest airline union with 56,000 airline members including 27,000 at Southwest and 20,000 at American, endorsed Clinton in June. Clinton has "walked our picket lines, she's done her homework, and she's learned a great deal about what it means to be a union member," the union said in a blog post.

The Clinton campaign has even spoken out in opposition to regulatory approval of Norwegian Air International's bid to fly to the U.S, backing unions on an issue that has drawn scant attention outside the airline industry. In 2015, a spokesperson said the campaign "opposes attempts by airlines to flout labor standards and outsource good-paying jobs" and noted, "Too many questions have been raised about NAI's practices and plans."

The Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, a coalition of 32 unions in all segments of transportation, backs Clinton but doesn't  issue formal endorsements, a task that is left to its member unions.

"She is the only candidate in this race who has put out a very specific plan to spend a lot of money to modernize the transportation system," said TTD President Edward Wytkind. "She has been very supportive of finally modernizing {air traffic control, the No. 1 aviation issue in Washington."

Wytkind said Trump's support for dramatic tax cuts doesn't square with increased infrastructure spending. TTD has not taken a position on the divisive issue of whether air traffic control should be privatized as well as modernized.

On a key issue for unions, Trump has spoken in favor of right-to-work laws, which enable workers to take advantage of union benefits without paying union dues. Republicans have backed state right-to-work laws, and 26 states have them.

A national right-to-work law "would hollow out the labor movement," Wytkind said. "The goal is to bankrupt unions. If you are an airline employee, in a highly unionized industry with very strong unions that are good at tough bargaining, his plan would be to completely eviscerate your bargaining rights."

In February, in an interview with the South Carolina Radio Network, Trump said "I love the right to work" because "you are not paying the big fees to unions." He went on to say that while he fights unions and union leaders, union members "seem to really want to vote for me."

Some reports suggested that Trump is attracting a relatively large proportion of support from union members, who typically turn out about 60% for Democrats. But Wytkind said unions have begun to become more involved in the campaign with "vigorous programs in battleground states.

"As the labor movement does its job of education and mobilizing members, Trump's popularity among labor union members is dropping like a lead balloon," he said.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.