Labor or Unions

Women Leading the Labor Movement: Sara Nelson

Sara Nelson has served as the International President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO since 2014. The AFA represents fifty thousand flight attendants, about half the industry’s flight attendants. In 2001, Nelson was the vice-president of her local AFA council.

Early in her career, Nelson had worked on United Flight 175, the flight that was hijacked and hit the south tower of the World Trade Center. She knew all the crew members killed on September 11, 2001. Following the September 11 attacks, demand for airline tickets plunged, and in response, United decided to lay off twenty percent of its workforce.

“We were mourning our friends and trying to pick up the pieces of our lives,” Nelson said. “And the furloughs started immediately.”

Sara Nelson

In 2002, Nelson was appointed national spokesperson for the United chapter of AFA. When United Airlines announced twenty-three hundred more flight attendants would be furloughed, Nelson committed to “… fight like hell every single day to hang on to everything we possibly can.'”

Sara Nelson was elected international vice-president of AFA in 2011. In 2014 she became the union’s international president. When the government was shut down in 2018, federal employees went without pay for weeks. Nelson called for a general strike. When a reporter asked if she was threatening to shut down the entire economy, Nelson responded, “Yes.”

The COVID-19 pandemic further challenged the airline industry. Air travel declined dramatically, and flights were canceled. Airlines demanded financial help, or there would be bankruptcies. Nelson feared that airlines would declare bankruptcy, then reform after having shed the obligation of employee pensions. Nelson fought for the WorkersFirst bill, which prohibited furloughs and pay cuts for frontline workers and addressed stock buybacks, dividends, and executive compensation caps.

In addition to the fear of losing their jobs and pensions, flight attendants had to deal with violent passengers. Nelson worked to put those violent passengers on a no-fly list and oppose the sale of to-go drinks at airport bars. On May 16, 2022, Sara Nelson was re-elected AFA International President. Nelson embraces the #MeToo movement, condemning sexist practices, especially in the airline industry, where flight attendants have been trivialized. Sara Nelson encourages women to “Join Unions, Run Unions.”

“I believe in my bones the labor movement is the single greatest organizing force for progress. This is a moment for us to lead societal transformations — to leverage our power to bring women and people of color from the margins to the center — at work, in our unions, and in our economy, and to be the center of gravity for incubating new ideas that will unleash unprecedented union growth.”

Sara Nelson

Sources

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/sep/09/sara-nelson-flight-attendants-union-interview-labor
https://www.salon.com/2022/01/13/militant-leader-of-flight-attendants-union-may-seek-biggest-labor-job-in-america_partner/
https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2022/05/30/flight-attendants-fighting-back?utm_source=pocket-newtab
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sara_Nelson_(union_leader)
https://www.afacwa.org/leadership
https://www.newyorker.com/podcast/politics-and-more/sara-nelson-on-the-drive-to-unionize-delta-flight-attendants
https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2019/12/12/afl-cio-politics-union-flight-attendant-sara-nelson-president-trumka-082739
https://www.cntraveler.com/story/sara-nelson-wont-stop-fighting-for-flight-attendants-women-who-travel-podcast

Thanks, and a tip of the hat to https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sara_Nelson.jpg for the image.

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