A trio of labor unions requested the US Department of Transportation review its approval for Breeze Airways to operate as a commercial airline, just one week after the airline formally launched service. The Association of Flight Attendants— CWA (“AFA-CWA”), the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, and the Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO (“TWU”) cite discriminatory hiring practices for flight attendants in their request, with questions arising around age, race, and other factors.
For a profession that had an established reputation for discriminating against older workers throughout history and that has only recently begun to combat these ingrained, ageist behaviors, Breeze’s recruitment strategy is more in line with historical standards rather than modern ones.– DOT Complaint filed against Breeze Airways
The complaint centers on the airline’s focus of hiring flight attendants through a work study program at the Utah Valley University (“UVU”). That plan, first revealed in late 2020, is biased towards Caucasians and employees under 30, according to the filing, using UVU’s enrollment data as the underlying source.
Read more: Taking off: The Breeze Airways era begins
The Unions suggest that Breeze‘s actions violate the Age Discrimination Act of 1967 (“ADEA”) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (“Title VII”). It also raises the potential that UVU is in violation of Federal Work Study rules because these students are potentially displacing traditional employees at a for-profit company.
On Age Discrimination
Although UVU states that its full-time, online programs serve a diverse student population, it specifically states that along with the traditional student body population, it serves “adults who are returning to complete their degrees by taking evening classes.” On its face, Breeze’s program would exclude these potentially older, part-time evening students. Furthermore, Breeze itself has stated that this program is ideal for online college students due to the nomadic nature of the position. This presumes that older and more experienced flight attendants would not want a “nomadic” position, despite that these individuals have already built a career where substantial travel is an inherent part of the field. …
Even if Breeze is unintentionally excluding older workers, its current tuition reimbursement recruiting strategy has a disparate impact on a protected class of workers—those over the age of 40.
On Racial Discrimination
Based on an official survey from 2018, 78% of UVU’s student body is white/Caucasian while Hispanic/Latino representation is the next largest category at 11.4%. All other racial demographics have a less than 4% representation at the school. Although it may not be intentional, much like the ADEA analysis above, Breeze’s tuition reimbursement recruiting program has an unfortunate disparate impact on minorities who are already underrepresented in the airline industry.
The inaugural flight (on which I was a guest of the airline) included a racially diverse group working in the cabin. The group also appeared relatively young. That is a single data point, however, and does not directly counter the claims made in the filing.
When the program was announced Chief Operating Officer Tom Anderson gushed with excitement at the opportunity to “respond to the societal issue” of student debt, helping young adults secure a degree with minimal cost.
The $6,000 tuition reimbursement – only if they maintain a 3.0 GPA – helps on that front. The $1,200-1,600/month pay, however, is meager.
Assuming an 8-hour work day, the rate barely meets minimum wage requirements at the company’s Tampa base; it will come up short in 2022 at the Norfolk base.
An uphill battle
Getting the DOT to revoke the issued operating certificate presents a number of challenges. Among them, the complaint comes much later than would typically be accepted. The Unions address that point, noting “The Labor Parties were not aware of Breeze’s intent to hire almost exclusively from UVU until recently. Once the Labor Parties obtained additional information confirming that Breeze’s intended tuition reimbursement program would violate federal and state employment discrimination laws, the Labor Parties acted and timely filed this Petition to flag these practices for the Department’s review.”
A request for comment from the airline is pending at the time of publication.
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