WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Headed into the holiday travel season, airline workers say they are concerned about potential threats over COVID-19 safety protocols, and they’re calling on Congress to do more to protect them from a surge of assaults.
“Flight attendants are begging, ‘Make it stop,'” Sara Nelson of the Association of Flight Attendants told lawmakers during a Tuesday hearing.
Airlines have been dealing with more belligerent customers and attacks on workers during the pandemic. The Federal Aviation Administration says more than 70% of incidents involving airline staff involve mask rules.
At the Tuesday hearing, union representatives for flight attendants, ground workers and the Transportation Security Administration called on lawmakers and the Justice Department to respond more strongly.
“More has to be done to combat this dangerous behavior,” John Samuelsen, the international president of the Transportation Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO, said. “Of the more than 5,000 assaults reported to the FAA, only 37 were recommend for criminal prosecution.”
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., agreed more aggressive action is necessary, saying “violators must be held accountable.”
With a busy holiday travel season approaching, some union leaders say they are concerned vaccine mandates could make it more difficult to keep airports staffed and safe.
“TSA must staff adequately,” AFL-CIO President Everett Kelly said.
He said only about 60% of TSA staff are currently fully vaccinated. He said the federal vaccine mandate should be delayed to try to increase that rate.
“(An extension) till Jan. 4 will provide consistency and fairness,” he said.
Rep. Carlos Gimenez, R-Fla., said the entire mandate is wrong.
“TSA employees should have the right to choose if and when they’ll get to receive the vaccine,” he said.
The White House has not indicated it intends to extend the deadline.