February 11, 2019
Head Of Flight Attendants' Union Calls For Strike If Government Shuts Down Again

The president of a union representing around 50,000 flight attendants has called for a strike if government negotiators are unable to reach a deal by the Friday funding deadline, and the government shuts down again.

According to the Hill, Sara Nelson -- head of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) -- is calling for her union members, as well as for the general public, to demonstrate at numerous airports around the country on February 16 if lawmakers can't reach an accord by Friday.

"We are calling on the public on February 16," Nelson said. "If we are in a day 36 of this shutdown [we want] for everyone to come to the airports... and demand that this Congress work for us and get politics out of our safety and security."

While many in Congress say they are eager to avoid another shutdown, negotiations over increased funding for President Donald Trump's promised border wall have reportedly not progressed well.

However, Nelson – a Boston-based flight attendant who called for a general strike in response to the last shutdown – says that in addition to threatening public safety, those negotiations have no business interfering in the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans who went without pay for weeks. And while most government workers have gotten their back pay, Nelson says some air traffic controllers still haven't received all of the money they are owed.

"Most of the air traffic controllers have not been made whole and will not be made whole until the March 5 check," Nelson said. "Now, if we go into a day 36 of a shutdown, that puts them into continued uncertainty and they might never get that back pay."

Nelson was also critical of Trump's demand that workers continue to go in to work despite not being paid during the last shutdown.

"We have to ask, are we a country that's willing to put up with people [working] without pay? It's immoral, it's unjust and it requires really bold action," she said.

Sara Nelson speaks with Sen. Amy Klobuchar at a press conference.
Getty Images | Alex Wong
Association of Flight Attendants president Sara Nelson (r) speaking with Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Last time, the shutdown only ended when a group of 10 New York and Washington D.C. air traffic controllers "called in sick," which was enough to cause major delays.

What's more, Nelson says that other unions are sympathetic to the flight attendants' cause. She lists the American Federation of Teachers as a "very strong ally," along with Unite Here, which represents federal subcontractors -- many of whom still haven't been paid for time they missed working during the last shutdown.

"We need people to fully understand what the issues are so that we can be prepared to respond potentially with withholding our service, if that's what it takes to stop a continuation of the shutdown," Nelson said.