Comstock to airline execs: Fix industry’s sexual harassment problems

It’s time to promptly resolve sexual harassment issues affecting flight attendants and passengers, U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) told 30 airline executives recently.
The congresswoman – in a May 24 bipartisan letter penned with U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL) and six other members of the U.S. House of Representatives – requested the industry leaders immediately institute specific policies and publicly condemn sexual harassment.

“There is no room for sexual harassment or assault in the workplace. Yet, this behavior has been tolerated for far too long,” wrote the lawmakers, referring to a May 10 survey from the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA), the national union representing 50,000 flight attendants at 20 airlines.

According to the 3,500 respondents to the survey conducted earlier this year by the AFA, 68 percent of flight attendants reported experiencing sexual harassment during their careers, and 68 percent also reported they hadn’t noticed any employer efforts during 2017 to address sexual harassment at work.

Similarly, the lawmakers wrote, roughly 80 percent of flight attendants are female and many times they’re “objectified on a daily basis by passengers, coworkers, and superiors.”

“It is perhaps not surprising that sexual harassment is prevalent given the industry’s past objectification of flight attendants,” they wrote. “Not long ago, airlines used flight attendants, and their sexuality, as part of a marketing strategy to sell more airline tickets. As recently as 1993, flight attendants were required to weigh-in regularly to maintain their employment,” according to their letter.

The lawmakers also told airline executives, “It is important we work together to ensure a safe workplace environment for all employees.”

The congresswomen have requested that the airline executives team up with the AFA to put in place policies to address what they called a systemic issue, which they learned about during a bipartisan March hearing held by the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues about sexual harassment in the service sector entitled, “Beyond the Headlines: Combating Service Sector Sexual Harassment in the Age of #MeToo.”

During the hearing, members of Congress heard from sexual harassment survivors and experts about how to change workplace culture. The hearing was hosted by Rep. Frankel, co-chair of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues; U.S. Reps. Susan Brooks (R-IN), also co-chair of the caucus; Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), vice chair of the caucus; Mimi Walters (R-CA), vice chair of the caucus; and Rep. Comstock, who is a member of the caucus.

“During our recent hearing held by the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues, we heard about the problem of sexual harassment of airline flight attendants and the need for reforms and action to establish zero-tolerance policies,” Rep. Comstock said in a joint May 24 statement with Rep. Frankel.

Rep. Comstock noted that she and Rep. Frankel commend the efforts of airline companies Spirit, United Airlines and Alaska Airlines for taking the industry lead in denouncing sexual harassment and supporting flight attendants in the workplace. “We trust all airlines are addressing this issue and will come forward with policies to establish zero-tolerance policies throughout the industry,” she said.

“Flight attendants are responsible for our safety and comfort when traveling the skies,” added Rep. Frankel. “They deserve our respect, and shouldn’t fear sexual harassment and abuse while on the job. We need airline executives to lead and create policies to protect them.”

The letters were sent to executives at: Air Wisconsin Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Allegiant Air, American Airlines, ATI, Cathay Pacific U.S., Compass Airlines, Delta, Endeavor Air, Envoy Air, ExpressJet, Frontier Airlines, GoJet Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Horizon Air, JetBlue, Mesa Air Group, Miami Air International, Norwegian, Omni Air International, Piedmont Airlines, PSA Airlines, Republic, Silver Airways, SkyWest, Southwest, Spirit Airlines, Sun Country, TranStates and United Airlines.