Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Flight attendant activist talks security

Union leader pays visit to city

        Pat Friend, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, was in town Tuesday to take part in the AFL-CIO's event promoting pension and retirement-plan reform in the wake of the Enron collapse.

        But she also took time out in her role as the leader of the almost 50,000-member union to discuss aviation and airline security issues with Enquirer reporter James Pilcher, as well as labor issues within her union and the area's dominant carrier, Delta Air Lines.

        Question: You have been one of the most outspoken critics of the efforts to improve airport and airline security since the Sept. 11 attacks. Why take this approach, and what has been the fallout?

        Answer: I've actually accused the FAA of putting me on some kind of watch list, because the random hand searches and extra security I underwent in the months right after the attacks was pretty much at every stop.

        But I know that if I stop talking about it, the government will sweep all our issues under the rug — it's history we're well aware of. I've been accused of telling terrorists how to make another attack, but what we're doing is exposing loopholes before terrorists exploit those loopholes.

        Q: So what is your opinion of how the new Transportation Security Administration is being implemented?

        A: (Shaking her head no) It's just so sad. We wanted a law-enforcement agency, and we did not want it in the (Department of Transportation). We believed they could act more independently of the airline industry.

        Now, unfortunately, the TSA has declined to regulate, and is instead making recommendations, and letting the airlines make their own choices.

        Q: What is your stance on arming pilots and flight attendants?

        A: What we are for is some defensive capabilities in the cabin. We don't understand the purpose of having a gun in the cockpit if it is fortified in the short term and will be even more so in the long term.

        What would they do with a gun? We believe the most important thing is to get the aircraft safely on the ground as quickly and safely as possible.

        And you can't ignore the human factor. If there is a terrorist back there killing people one by one to get the pilot to come out, and the pilot has a gun, how long can he endure that? I know of one couple — a United pilot who is married to a United flight attendant — who had been flying together. After Sept. 11, he told her he could not fly with her anymore, because he didn't want to have to decide whether to let her die.

        As for the batons, it's just an option. We're looking at everything — stun guns, tasers, although mace and pepper spray could get into the ventilation system. Frankly, the National Institutes of Justice in my opinion failed miserably at their job of evaluating options.

        As for flight attendants, more than anything, we want to be trained and be equipped to not become a liability, but instead give the pilot valuable time to get the plane on the ground.

        Q: The AFA in January lost an organizing election at Delta that would have been the largest single unionization in history, but you have filed interference charges against Delta. What is the status of the election, and what is the union's next course of action?

        A: The National Mediation Board has finished its in-field investigation, and they've conducted hundreds of interviews. Now they're putting all their notes together to make a recommendation and a potential remedy. We're expecting some sort of ruling this summer.

        And if the board does find interference, we're going to really push for the “Laker” ballot, which only counts the ballots submitted.

        If we don't get that, we'll still run another election, but probably to the same result. It's hard to internalize how much paranoia was out there by people who were pro-union but afraid of being watched and of losing their jobs.

        If they find there was no evidence of interference, we are prohibited from being active at Delta for 12 months. But I don't think it will come to that.



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