airline pilot with many years of experience and skill and a whole
lot of grace under pressure last month did what was considered by
many to have been impossible: he ditched a plane in the January-cold
Hudson River at New York
City and lost not a single one of the 155 passengers and crew who
were on board.
though a passenger, in a state of panic, cracked open a door through
which water started to enter the cabin, the crew remained calm and,
following the instructions of the captain, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger,
directed every passenger to the proper escape chutes, where they
awaited rescue by both private boats and emergency craft.
kept the 58-year-old Sully on the job? His matter-of-fact actions
- as if he’d practiced that very procedure just before - were the
result of education, training, and plenty of experience flying the
plane-filled skies over the U.S.
kind of performance under fire doesn’t just come from watching disaster
movies. It comes with the years Sullenberger has put in, flying
under every condition in a variety of planes and knowing what should
be done in every circumstance.
responded with what is generally known as seasoning and airlines
should be looking to keep that kind of talent in the cockpits, no
matter what it takes. What kept the 58-year-old Sully on the job,
instead of retiring with a well-earned pension? It appears that
it might be that he had to work, had to keep working.
the end of a long working life, he should have been able to look
forward to the benefits he’d earned in those dedicated years of
service - but the airline cut his pay 40 percent and replaced his
pension with what the Associated Press reported he described as
“a promise worth pennies on the dollar,” when he appeared this week
before the U.S. House of Representatives aviation subcommittee.
with the deregulation of the airline industry, the problems continued
and culminated with the bankruptcies of airline companies after
the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when planes weren’t flying and, when
they did, fewer passengers were boarding.
airlines, like other industries, took advantage of the panic and
the turmoil in their deregulated markets and demanded – and usually
received - concessions from their workers. When fear of flying took
hold among the flying public, airlines demanded even more from their
workers and used the fear that was generated by official Washington to seek even more concessions.
time, many resigned or accepted buy-outs, or tried to make-do with
what they had left on the job. Some opened up businesses that they
could run in their off time. Overall, however, the result was that
fewer experienced and seasoned pilots are in the cockpits. Others
found themselves learning new skills, when there was market for
testimony before the House this week, according to the AP, there
was a not so subtle warning to those in Congress who oversee the
airline industry in its deregulated state, both from Sullenberger
and his co-pilot, Jeffrey B. Skiles, who told the panel that experienced
pilots are leaving because they no longer can afford to work at
low wages, with deep cuts in their benefits and pensions.
Sullenberger warned that, if things continue as they have in the
industry, there will be “negative consequences to the flying public.”
It didn’t take much imagination to get the meaning of their testimony.
airline industry has made sure there will be few experienced pilots
and crews in the air and the reason is that, in cutting costs at
the expense of everything else, the airline companies go after the
highest cost workers - the older, experienced, seasoned workers,
including the pilots and flight crews. These should be the most
valuable employees, because safe flying should be the top priority
for those who run the airline companies. But cutting their pay and
benefits or offering them buy-outs is the quickest way to reduce
labor costs, while not threatening the salaries, perks, bonuses,
and benefits of top management.
Sullenberger and Skiles told the committee is significant not only
for the airline industry, but for American industry, in general.
the past 30 years or more, employers and whole industries in the
U.S. have been busy “de-skilling” the country.
In industries from auto to steel to electronics to food - virtually
every sector of American life - companies have been busy dumbing-down
the work, making the work simple enough that anyone can do it with
minimal training for $8 or $10 an hour.
mantra of Corporate America has been and is: We’re moving to a service
economy, so get used to it. It’s low wages and no benefits. Get
used to it. We’re
moving industrial and manufacturing production to other countries
where the work will be done for 10 percent of the labor costs. Get
used to it.
has been going on for decades and the result is that the highly
skilled and motivated workers - professional, production or service
- are earning less and working longer at the lower rates, many without
the hope of a retirement income.
is not an anomaly. When he leaves, who will be there to teach and
mentor those who will be in the cockpit when some future emergency
occurs? Steady hands at the helm are needed to perform this vital
function, in the airline industry and in American industry, overall.
they’re not there. They have been driven out by the bottom-line
mentality of Corporate America. Service
to the people and the nation goes out the window, when the quarterly
profit report is due.
would be smart if the rabid deregulators in government and the corporations
took a quick look at our financial and economic condition, to see
what those policies and philosophies have brought down on the country.
It would be smart if they had a look at what their profit-at-all-costs
policies have done to the American people.
warning about airline passengers’ safety - in the context of airline
companies’ de-skilling of the industry - could well stand as a warning
to all the masters of industry in America:
You’re forcing out those who know the most, who made your profits
and who are at the top of their game. When they’re gone, you have
no comparable pool of workers and no prospect of replacing them
BlackCommentator.com Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former union
organizer. His union work started when he became a local president
of The Newspaper Guild in the early 1970s. He was a reporter for
14 years for newspapers in New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers
as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from
factory food producers and land developers. Click here
to contact Mr. Funiciello.