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Airline pilots will hold a White House rally on Tuesday asking President Donald Trump to block Obama’s last-minute approval of a plan that would replace thousands of American pilots with foreign aircrew paid at rock-bottom foreign wages.
The airline pilots’ appeal will come one day after Trump’s signature on Monday killed the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which would have allowed an unlimited number of foreign companies to replace U.S. workers with imported foreign workers paid $1 an hour wages.
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“This [Obama pilot] decision is just another failed trade deal by the Obama administration, giving foreign companies an unfair advantage over U.S. companies,” said Captain Jon Weaks, Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association president.
“The Obama administration has tilted the field of play in favor of a foreign competitor and put thousands of good-paying, middle-class, U.S. aviation jobs at risk,” said Chip Hancock, chairman of the union’s governmental affairs committee. “We’re very pleased with the [new] president so far for what he’s done to squash these bad trade deals … [and] with the president’s pro-U.S. worker, pro fair trade mantra.”
Throughout his two terms, Obama worked to increase the annual inflow of foreign white-collar workers, and his last-minute regulations allow many more white-collar contract workers to get permanent residence.
Currently, roughly 1 million while-collar jobs in Americans are held by multi-year foreign contract workers. These professionals include 100,000 H-1B contract workers employed in universities, and 147,00 foreign graduates of U.S. universities. Also, several Democrat-run states are granting professional licenses to illegal immigrants. In addition, legal immigration brings in more than 150,000 white-collar immigrants each year.
The airline and NetJet pilots are planning a 12:30 p.m. “Rally for U.S. Aviation Jobs” in front of the White House on Tuesday. They’re targeting Obama’s decision to let the Irish subsidiary of a Norwegian airline begin flights in the United States using crews contracted in Asia.
Norwegian Air Shuttle’s Irish subsidiary, Norwegian Airline International, exists because Ireland tries to maximize its growth by minimizing trade rules. It late December, the Obama administration granted a flight permit to the Irish subsidiary, which allows NAI to being its flag of convenience operation on Jan. 29.
If the Norwegian operation begins, it will force down U.S. aircrew wages, said Hancock, adding that pilots in commuter airlines are already being paid as low as $30,000 per year. European and other foreign airlines will eventually mimic the Norwegian plan, eventually forcing U.S. airlines to slash salaries to pilots and supporting staff, he said. “There are tens of thousands of jobs at stake,” he added.
Pedro Leroux, the president of the NetJets Association said he and his membership were concerned the permit ignores the NAI’s practice of hiring pilots, who were not actual employees, rather they are independent contractors.
“The DOT’s decision creates a playing field that is grossly skewed in favor of foreign competition, forcing domestic carriers to now compete against foreign airlines that have been given unfair economic advantages by the very same department that is supposed to encourage fair wages and working conditions,” he said.
“NAI’s scheme poses a very serious risk to the National Airspace System,” he said. “Specifically, the flying public will be sharing the skies with contracted pilots who have no direct tie to airline management. Absent an ability to communicate, how can these pilots focus attention on operational safety concerns?”
Aside from the issue of Obama green-lighting a proposal that would create a new competitor for American airlines, there is concern that that the NAI and its business model violate Article 17 of the Open Skies Agreement and the article’s operative sentence: “The opportunities created by the Agreement are not intended to undermine labor standards or the labor-related rights and principles contained in the Parties’ respective laws.”
This provision was inserted to recognize that developed countries with wealthier markets also have higher labor costs. In exchange for opening up their markets, developed countries are supposed to be protected from other developed countries hiring cheap labor from the developing countries.
But, this deal is exactly what NAI has evaded by recruiting and hiring crew members from Thailand and Singapore.
“This permit allows for Norwegian to establish an Irish subsidiary in order to take advantage of Ireland’s impotent labor, tax and social laws,” Weaks said. “This is exactly the type of scheme that decimated the U.S. shipping industry and will be the catalyst for a race to the bottom in the U.S. airline industry.
If Trump lets the Obama permit to NAI stand, it will be a victory for Norwegian Air Shuttle’s lobbyist John Byerly.
During his time in the State Department, 2001-to-2010, Byerly championed breaking down trade barriers — such as rules requiring that American jobs go to Americans. According to the Irish Independent, Norwegian Air Shuttle paid Byerly nearly $200,000 for his services, along with another $800,000 to Prime Policy Group, the Washington-based influence shop.