U.S. Workers Heading for an Emergency Brexit Row?

By ALPA Staff

It’s not yet an emergency, but time is running out for U.S. airlines selling tickets for flights between the United States and the UK after the UK’s exit from the EU on March 29, 2019. The UK is seeking a U.S.–UK agreement that provides the same ownership and control flexibility its airlines currently enjoy under the U.S.–EU Air Transport Agreement (ATA), but ALPA is urging that the agreement also contain the same labor provision as the U.S.–EU policy.

“There is no need for us to create an exotic new treaty,” UK Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told Reuters in 2017. “It’s just a question of making sure existing arrangements continue post-2019.” Currently, the UK is included under the U.S.–EU ATA, an “Open Skies” agreement, which took effect April 30, 2007.

Under the agreement, U.S. and EU airlines, including those of the UK, are permitted to fly from any of the union’s 28 member states to any point in the United States. In addition, while other U.S. bilateral agreements require that the airlines involved are majority owned and controlled by citizens of the country designating the airline, the U.S.–EU policy permits EU airlines to be owned by citizens of any EU country.

Special rules require special labor protection

ALPA served as a member of the U.S. delegation to the talks during the U.S.–EU Open Skies agreement negotiations. The Association cautioned at the time that loosening the ownership and control requirement for the EU would allow its airlines to “shop” for the most advantageous regulatory, tax, and labor policies among the EU countries’ 28 sets of regulations and laws.

Despite ALPA’s warning, the first stage of the U.S.–EU agreement didn’t include labor protections. Shortly after it took effect, an EU airline established a subsidiary in an EU country other than its home nation—exactly the regulatory-shopping model ALPA had predicted and that would harm labor.

In response, ALPA and other U.S. and EU unions successfully pressed during the second stage of negotiations for a provision to be added that would protect labor. Titled Article 17 bis, the historic U.S.–EU ATA labor article states that opportunities under the agreement are not intended to be used to undermine labor standards.

Row ahead on U.S.–UK agreement?

Because none of the UK’s airlines are currently owned and controlled by its citizens, the UK is asking for similar modifications in the U.S.–UK agreement regarding ownership and control rights, so that its airlines can be owned by citizens of any EU country.

“For 10 years, UK airlines and their passengers and shippers have benefited from the relaxed ownership and control rights of the U.S.–EU agreement and done business under the agreement’s labor article,” said Capt. Tim Canoll, ALPA’s president. “We agree there’s no reason to create an exotic new treaty and that means maintaining existing labor protections in any new U.S.–UK policy.”

Clock is ticking

ALPA has been clear that U.S. airline workers need a fair and certain path forward, both as a member of the U.S. delegation as well as with U.S. lawmakers. On February 23, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), ranking member of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA), ranking member on the U.S. House Subcommittee on Aviation, sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and then U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging them to include a labor provision in any U.S.–UK agreement.

Safety post-Brexit

Separately from the air transport agreement talks, ALPA has also expressed confidence in the FAA as it works with UK officials and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to ensure a continued high level of safety during the UK’s departure from the EU. ALPA believes that the best way forward is for the UK to remain part of EASA, regardless of its membership in the EU.

Both the U.S. and UK governments appear to want to come to an agreement as soon as possible. ALPA will continue to make its members’ voices heard as talks continue. The Association won’t remain seated in standing up for labor in any Brexit row.

This article was originally published in the May 2018 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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