Monday, August 30, 2010

Blaming the victim: Compass Airlines flight attendant fired for revealing her low income qualified her for food stamps

by B. N. Sullivan

If this isn't a classic case of blaming the victim, I don't know what is:  A Compass Airlines flight attendant has lost her job because she dared to say publicly that, due to her low wages, she qualified for food stamps.  The flight attendant was fired by the regional carrier after revealing in an interview on a local television show that she had been approved for food stamps in order to compensate for her low income.

Even though the flight attendant worked a full-time schedule at Compass Airlines, she was paid poverty-level wages.  She applied for food stamps to supplement her inadequate income -- and she certainly is not the only poorly paid flight attendant to have done so -- but she didn't keep her mouth shut about it.  She spoke out about her situation during a television interview.

Oh, the audacity!  You are SO fired for revealing the dirty secret that the airline pays many of its line employees so poorly that they can't make ends meet without public assistance.

Since late 2009, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA)  has represented the flight attendants at Compass Airlines, which conducts regional flying on behalf of Delta Air Lines.  Currently, the AFA is  engaged in contract negotiations with Compass Airlines for their first agreement.  At present, Compass flight attendants are paid at or near the minimum wage with a starting flight attendant annually making between $13,842 ($1,153.50/month) and $15,453 ($1,287.75/month), according to the union. That would make most Compass flight attendants eligible for assistance.

Well, you might think to yourself, if the job pays so poorly that the flight attendant had to apply for food stamps, why didn't she just quit and get another job?

Right.  Good jobs are plentiful just now.  If she left her job at Compass Airlines, she probably could have her pick among many well-paying jobs.  Not!!

While I don't know this particular flight attendant and her circumstances, I do know that many flight attendants are thankful that they have a job -- any job, even a poorly paid one -- in the current economic climate.  Which is worse?  Being employed in a low-paying job and having your meager income supplemented with food stamps?  Or being unemployed, with dim prospects in these times, and the risk of ending up on the welfare rolls?  You decide.

You also might wonder why this flight attendant took the job in the first place.  I mean, she must have known about the low pay before she signed on.  But who can say what her aspirations were, or what her situation was at the time she began working for Compass Airlines, and who knows how that situation may have changed in the meantime.  There might be any number of reasons why a person would accept a low-paying position, but that is not the point here.

The point is that the flight attendant in question spoke publicly about her low pay and her struggle to make ends meet, and was terminated by her employer for doing so.  That is just wrong.  It's not like airline pay scales are a closely guarded trade secret.  More likely it's that Compass Airlines was embarrassed by the public revelation that they do not pay their front-line workers a living wage.  So, as punishment for embarrassing her employer, the flight attendant was fired.

As I said at the outset, it looks to me like a clear case of  "Blame the victim."

Addressing this case, Patricia Friend, AFA-CWA International President said, "Poverty is not a crime and it is despicable that Compass Airlines would fire an employee for speaking the truth.  Unfortunately there are flight attendants across the country who have to rely on federal and state assistance to make ends meet.  Instead of paying hardworking flight attendants a living wage, airline management would rather shame them and make them fear for their jobs."

The AFA is calling for Compass Airlines to immediately reinstate this flight attendant.  I, too, hope they do so.

UPDATE Sep 3, 2010: From AFA:  Compass Airlines Flight Attendants will protest poverty level wages:
"You Can’t Silence the Truth – Give Kirsten Arianejad’s Job Back"
  • Tuesday, September 7, 2010
  • Time: 12:00 pm to 2:00 pm
  • Picketing: Across from ticketing – upper level; Minneapolis – St. Paul International Airport; Minneapolis, MN