SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
Page 1 TOP OF DOCH.R. 3187, AVIATION SAFETY PROTECTION ACT
WEDNESDAY, JULY 10, 1996
U.S. House of Representatives,
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure,
Subcommittee on Aviation,
The committee met, pursuant to notice, at 1:34 p.m. in room 2123 Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. John J. Duncan, Jr. (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Mr. DUNCAN. We'll go ahead and call the subcommittee to order.
Today the subcommittee will revisit the issue of whistleblower protection for airline workers. This subcommittee actually held the first hearings on this issue back in 1988, and the House at that time passed legislation, but that particular bill died in the Senate.
At that time the focus was on Eastern Airlines. That airline was in the midst of labor problems under its controversial chairman, Frank Lorenzo. There were allegations of safety violations and retaliation against employees who blew the whistle on them.
Page 2 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Similar allegations arose last year at ValuJet Airlines, and we have flight attendants here from ValuJet who can tell us their story; however, I would like to emphasize that it is not our intention today to replay the issues surrounding ValuJet that have been examined so thoroughly by this subcommittee during both of our hearings last month.
This subcommittee, or at least this chairman, believes that one of the best things for the flying public would be to have even more airlines fly today than we have at the present time safely and at low cost, and that also would be one of the best things for airline employees, because it would open up more job opportunities.
So this hearing, while we will hear some testimony concerning ValuJet, hopefully we will focus on the broader issue, and it is an issue that involves all the airlines and not just ValuJet.
The purpose of this hearing is to consider H.R. 3187, a bill introduced by our colleague, Mr. Clyburn, who has been a leader on the whistleblower protection issue and an active member of this subcommittee. We appreciate the time and effort that he has put into this legislation.
The experts tell us that there are over a dozen Federal laws protecting workers against retaliation for disclosing health or safety problems in the work place. There are laws protecting nuclear plant workers, miners, truckers, farm laborers, and others when acting as whistleblowers, but apparently none for airline employees.
We gave other unions, as well as the Department of Transportation, an opportunity to testify on this issue. Yesterday afternoon Secretary Pena called me to tell me that he supported this legislation and would be sending or had sent a letter to that effect. However, it was the flight attendants who were the most concerned about this issue, and we have several of their leaders who are appearing to testify here today.
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We appreciate very much their testimony, and also the willingness to participate by the other witnesses whom we will hear from today.
At this time I recognize my good friend, the ranking member of the subcommittee, Mr. Lipinski.
[The prepared statements of Mr. Nadler and Mr. Costello follow:]
Mr. LIPINSKI. I thank the chairman, my good friend, Mr. Duncan, for giving me this time.
Mr. Chairman, this afternoon the subcommittee will focus its attention on H.R. 3187, legislation to protect airline employees from management retaliation for providing safety information to the Government.
I want to commend the gentleman from South Carolina, Mr. Clyburn, for his leadership on this issue. He has been a very active member of this subcommittee, and I welcome his involvement here today.
As our recent hearings have indicated, this subcommittee is extremely concerned about aviation safety. We will continue to promote the highest possible level of safety in every area of the aviation system. To that end, we are holding this important hearing today.
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC A law to protect airline employee whistleblowers is not a new idea. The House passed legislation on this issue in 1988, and we have waited too long to revive it.
Today's hearing is an important first step in moving this legislation forward.
Mr. Chairman, I do want to emphasize that this hearing is not about ValuJet. Today's witnesses are here to raise our awareness of this issue throughout the industry and to discuss the merits of this legislation. I am looking forward to their testimony.
With that, I will yield back the balance of my time.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Lipinski.
Now we'll call on Mr. Coble.
Mr. COBLE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I don't have a prepared statement, but I want to share with the chairman and the members of the subcommitteeand our audience, for that mattera situation I encountered during our recent 4th of July District work period.
I met with a long-time Federal employee in my office at High Point, North Carolinafurniture capital of the world, I might add, Mr. Chairman. This gentleman, my friends, is a whistleblower. They've been yanking him around now for about a decade.
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He's still employed as a Federal employee. I will not identify the agency. By the way, it is not an agency over which this subcommittee has jurisdiction, I will say that. I will not identify the agency because it is in litigation now.
Folks, when he told me what he has had to endure in the work place because he blew the whistle, it was inexcusable.
Mr. Chairman, I'm not talking about $55,000, $65,000, or $75,000; I'm talking about tens of millions of dollars that this man saved taxpayers, and now the Federal Government is trying to terminate him from employment. It hasn't done it yet, but they're trying their darndest to do it.
I think it's very appropriate that I share that with you all, Mr. Chairman. It's not exactly in line with what we're here today about, but I think analogous.
I thank you and Mr. Lipinski for your interest in this verywhat can be a very sensitive subject matter.
I look forward to hearing from the witnesses, and I thank the chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Well, thank you very much, Mr. Coble. I know of your great interest in this and your outstanding work on the Judiciary Committee, also, so you know some things about this that I'm sure will be very helpful.
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. Danner.
Ms. DANNER. Mr. Chairman, I do not have any statement at this time. I will have some questions, actually of the sponsor of the legislation, at a later point in time.
Mr. DUNCAN. All right. Thank you very much.
Mr. LAHOOD. Nothing at this time, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Clyburn is the sponsor of this legislation, and so, Mr. Clyburn, thank you very much. We'll let you make your statement at this time. Take your time.
Mr. CLYBURN. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chairman, I very much appreciate your holding this hearing today and the access you afforded me when I sought to discuss this issue with you back in March.
As you may recall, I was the South Carolina human affairs commissioner for almost 18 years previous to my coming to Congress. In that capacity, Mr. Chairman, I learned a great deal about fair employment practices and the things that make for good and wholesome relationships between employers and employees.
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Mr. Chairman, although I'm proud of the expertise I developed in the area of fair employment practices and policy, I'm the first to admit I am not an aviation expert, but I've gained significant knowledge about the industry through my service on our committee and by listening to my constituents and frequent travelers.
I've also learned the aviation field can be dynamic and that competition in the industry can be fierce. In such an environment, there can be tremendous pressure to contain costs and also enhance services.
Under such constraints it is not hard to visualize employees and equipment being pushed to their limits, and sometimes, Mr. Chairman, those limits are not as expansive as we might expect or want them to be.
The legislation we are considering today will help restore confidence, enhance morale, and protect the traveling public. It will also say to our hard-working professionals in the aviation industry that we respect your positions and honor your commitments.
The bill does much more, also. H.R. 3187 protects the airlines from frivolous complaints by disgruntled workers.
Let me make one thing crystal clear, Mr. Chairman, as you have already. This legislation has little to do with ValuJet, and I can understand how someone looking at today's witness list could very well think it does. But this legislation was introduced last March, 2 months before the unfortunate accident.
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And, as you may recall, Mr. Chairman, it was proposed by me last year as an amendment to the legislation reauthorizing the FAA, and I was told, if I might add parenthetically, at that time that if I were to withdraw the amendment that you would consider bringing this back before this Body as a freestanding bill, and that I did, and we brought it back in March, 2 months before a ValuJet accident.
Also, Mr. Chairman, as you have mentioned, a similar bill was passed by the House in the 100th Congress on September 13, 1988. I would like to point out that the current speaker, Mr. Gingrich, was the ranking minority member of the subcommittee at that time and supported the legislation.
I am pleased to say that H.R. 3187 enjoys similar support from both sides of the aisle, and there are currently 60 co-sponsors.
I expect some representatives of the industry to say this legislation is not necessary. They may say airlines want to protect their customers, their employees, and their equipment. They may even testify that a crash is the worst thing which can happen to an airline and they will do anything to prevent it from occurring.
My response to all of that is very simple and clear: if an airline is doing what it should be doing, then this legislation will have absolutely no effect on its operations and will only serve to make their employees feel good. I might ask, Mr. Chairman, what is so wrong with that?
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Once again, Mr. Chairman, I appreciate your help in bringing this bill before our subcommittee today. I look forward to hearing from all of our witnesses, and I hope we'll have a markup of this legislation very soon.
Mr. COBLE. Mr. Chairman, while the gentleman from South Carolina has the time, could I ask him to yield?
Mr. DUNCAN. Yes, sir.
Mr. CLYBURN. I'd be pleased to yield.
Mr. COBLE. Mr. Clyburn, I want to be sure I heard you correctly. I thought you said that this hearing has little to do with ValuJet. It has nothing to do with ValuJet, does it?
Mr. CLYBURN. Well, the reason I used the term ''little,'' is because it has everything to do with ValuJet as a part of this industry, but I wanted everyone to know that it's not pointed at ValuJet, but since ValuJet is a part of the aviation industry, it does have something to do with it.
Mr. COBLE. Well, I think every airline would probably be exposed to that theory.
Mr. CLYBURN. Absolutely.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. COBLE. All right. I thank the gentleman. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. CLYBURN. And thank you.
Mr. DUNCAN. All right. Thank you very much, Mr. Clyburn.
We have now been joined by the ranking member of the full committee, our good friend and respected leader, Mr. Oberstar.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I very greatly appreciate your calling this hearing on this very important legislation introduced by our colleague from South Carolina, Mr. Clyburn.
The Aviation Subcommittee has dealt with this issue in the past on several occasions, and we have labored hard to develop bipartisan consensus on protecting employees who bring safety issues forward but then risk suffering, and I must say rare instances but, nonetheless, risk suffering for coming forward with information that is important on safety and security and other issues of aviation consequence.
In fact, we've had such consequences for flight attendants who have testified before our Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee and the Aviation Subcommittee and mechanics who did the same.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In 1988, in the 100th Congress, the Aviation Subcommittee developed whistleblower legislation that passed the House with such broad consensus that it was brought up under the suspension calendar.
For those who are new Members to the committee and to this subcommittee, I want to point out that at the time, as Mr. Clyburn just mentioned, our Aviation Subcommittee leadership included Norm Mineta, who recently retired, and the current Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich. In fact, I was the lead witness at those hearings in my capacity then as chair of the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, which raised many of the concerns that were to be addressed by that legislation.
Although the House passed the bill, unfortunately, as so often is the case, the Senate failed to take up our very fine work product and the bill languished, which is, of course, why we're back here again trying to do it.
I would just like to take a few moments to discuss why it is important to have a law to protect safety, whistleblowers. On whom do they blow the whistle? My experience with the Aviation Subcommittee and with the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight is that whistleblowers come right here to see that the information they have gets acted on. We're a court of last resort. When they can't get anything done through channels, they come to our committee, they come to authorities within the FAA. They should not come under fear of reprisal.
The whistleblower protection legislation I introduced in 1987 grew out of a situation in which a pilot for ComAir, Captain Mary Mitten, testified before our subcommittee about surveillance of maintenance at her airline. After presenting the testimony, she was called into the company vice president's office and told that her actions were inappropriate and she was denied opportunity to testify in the future.
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I didn't just sit still. I interceded with the company president. I talked to the Department of Transportation. I was joined in that initiative by my very good friend and the ranking member at the time, Bill Clinger. On a bipartisan basis, we saw to it that she would not be disciplined further.
There are similar examples in which this problem has affected the oversight responsibilities of our committee.
In another example involving Eastern Airlines, a mechanic was dismissed for contacting the FAA hotline about maintenance issues at that carrier. In one specific instance, which was the subject of our hearings, Eastern flew an aircraft after a hard landing. The flight attendant knew that there was something wrong with that aircraft. She tried to call it to the attention of company officials. They wouldn't listen.
Eventually she called ahead and the mechanic called ahead to its next landing point. Then and only then was the aircraft inspected as it should have been, and a seven-foot-long crease was found in the fuselage from the cockpit back.
On arrival in Chicago, the FAA grounded the aircraft based on the hotline information. The next day or a few days later, the mechanic was dismissed.
We're not talking about theory. We're not talking about abstractions here. We're talking about real people, their lives, their careers, their jobs, and their professionalism. This legislation is intended to protect them.
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I recognize that there are rare circumstances in which this occurs, but those rare circumstances have a broad, chilling effect upon others who have a broad concern about the safety and the lives of passengers that fly aircraft.
I hope that we'll move ahead expeditiously with this legislation. I understand from the Secretary of Transportation that the Department of Transportation will express its support for this legislation. So I hope that once again the House will work its will and pass this very important legislation. This time we'll get it through the Congress.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Oberstar.
Mr. BACHUS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I don't have an opening statement other than to say that we have heard reports that ValuJet has been harsh on employees who have reported safety violations. At the same time, ValuJet has strongly denied those allegations. Some of their employees have disputed those allegations.
These are critical issues, and I'm glad that we're going to hear from these witnesses today, and I'm going to be interested in what they say and what they say about the need for this legislation. I'm here to listen to them.
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Mr. DUNCAN. All right. Thank you very much, Mr. Bachus.
We have with us also a very fine new member of the full committee, Mr. Dan Frisa, from the State of New York. Mr. Frisa came up to me a few minutes ago and said that he has not been formally assigned to this subcommittee, but we hope that he will be, and we're certainly glad to have him here today.
Mr. Frisa, I'm going to welcome you to the committee and to the subcommittee and we'll just give you the chance to participate to whatever extent you want to. We're glad to have you.
Do you have any opening statement at this time?
Mr. FRISA. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Just briefly, to express my interest in this topic. The Long Island, New York, District that I represent is the place from which Lindbergh took off for his famous flight, so it has become known as the ''Cradle of Aviation'' on Long Island. And the Grummann Aerospace Corporation got its start in a garage in my District some half a century back.
Being in close proximity to JFK International Airport and LaGuardia Airport and Islip/McArthur Airport out on Long Island, we've got many employees of the airlines who reside in my District, and I'm very interested in developing and hearing feedback on the framework that Mr. Clyburn's bill would provide in order to elicit those important concerns that come forward, and so that we can have a uniform system for eliciting that kind of information.
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I welcome the opportunity to hear the testimony, and thank you very much for the courtesy of allowing me to attend.
Mr. DUNCAN. Well, thank you very much, Mr. Frisa.
Let me just say, once again, as I mentioned in my opening statement, and also as Mr. Coble got into, this legislation, if passed, would apply to all airlines and to the entire aviation industry, but for, I guess, various reasons we've ended up with more witnesses from ValuJet than any other airline. We don't want this tocertainly there are some things specific to ValuJet that we'll hear about today, but we don't want to limit the focus of this hearing just to ValuJet.
We have offered others the opportunity to testify, and I will say, once again, that if anyone wishes or we feel there is a need to do so, we will hold a second hearing on this legislation and we will offer any airline or anyone who has an interest in this particular legislation the opportunity to testify, and we'll certainly give Mr. Clyburn the chance to produce any other witnesses that he wishes to have testify, or anyone else on the subcommittee.
We will proceed with the hearing today, but if anybody wants, we'll hold a second hearing on this, too.
Mr. DeFazio has just come in. Mr. DeFazio, do you have an opening statement?
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DEFAZIO. Very briefly. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I like our new digs here.
I would relate back to a time when we were involved in the discussion of flight duty time standards for commuter airline pilots and was approached by a number of pilotsquite a number, in fact,who wanted to talk to me privately but were afraid to say anything publicly for fear of their job, about abuses that had occurred in their employment, being made to fly sick, in violation of FAA rules, and a number of other concernsbeing made to fly when they really felt it wasn't safe to fly, under tremendous pressureof course, all denied by the regional Airline Transit Association, but from enough diverse, credible sources that I believed it.
So I believe these protections are absolutely necessary for conscientious employees who want to continue their jobs, who need to earn a living, but who also feel a high responsibility to public safety and public trust.
So I'm going to listen with great interest to the testimony, but from everything I have learned in 10 years on this committee, I believe that this is long overdue legislation and it will help to improve health and safety conditions for all Americans, both those who work in the industry and those who, as I did last night and as I do almost every week, fly back and forth across the United States or on shorter trips more occasionally.
I'd make one other note. It's not exactly on point, but most Americans don't know, and maybe even many people who work in the industry don't know that the FAA took an exemption from OSHA more than a decade ago and has never promulgated work place health and safety regulations, which go to concerns both for people that work in the airlines and for individuals who fly, because we don'tyou have standards in this office building for air exchanges and air circulation. We don't have them in airplanes. You have other standards for work place health and safety.
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When individuals have tried to come forward and make that case, the FAA has just drug its feet, claiming its exemption and claiming they're working on regulations.
I think, generally, we need to unleash activist employees within the industry so that they can express their concerns more generally, both on public policy issues, like FAA concerns, where the FAA thinks it's acting in the interest of the airlines, and also on issues that relate directly to their employer.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. DeFazio.
We'll now proceed with the first panel. This panel consists of: Ms. Patricia A. Friend, who is the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants of the AFL-CIO; Ms. Susan Clayton, who is a local executive council president, Association of Flight Attendants; and Ms. Mimi Halperin, who is a ValuJet Airlines flight attendant.
I certainly want to welcome each of you to the committee today, and we will proceed with your testimony in any order that you wish. We'll just go in the order that I announced at the first, and that means, Ms. Friend, we'll start with you, I suppose.
TESTIMONY OF PATRICIA A. FRIEND, INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT, ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS; SUSAN CLAYTON, LOCAL EXECUTIVE COUNCIL PRESIDENT, ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS; AND MIMI HALPERIN, FLIGHT ATTENDANT, VALUJET AIRLINES, ACCOMPANIED BY CAPTAIN RON MERZLAK
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Ms. FRIEND. Thank you, Chairman Duncan.
My name is Patricia Friend, and I am the International President of the Association of Flight Attendants, AFLCIO.
Chairman Duncan and Representative Lipinski, thank you for holding this important hearing.
I am here today to strongly endorse the Aviation Safety Protection Act and to share with you my thoughts on why providing whistleblower protection is sound aviation policy.
I am pleased to have the support of the Department of Transportation and the support of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFLCIO. I wish to submit their letters of support for the record.
While today's testimony will focus on one airline, I assure you that the problem of reporting safety concerns without fear of reprisal is not limited to ValuJet. I have also received reports of incidents from flight attendants at several other airlines. In each of these incidents, airline management warned the flight attendants not to report safety violations to the FAA.
This is why the Association of Flight Attendants started lobbying nearly a decade ago to provide our members with this critically important protection. In fact, AFA testified before this subcommittee in 1988 urging Congress to provide this protection.
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To place workers in the position of risking their career when they report safety concerns to the FAA or to Congress is poor aviation policy. The American traveling public would be shocked to learn that flight attendants, pilots, and mechanics today can be and are fired for reporting a safety violation.
Would American airline passengers want to fly on an airline with an unwritten company policy that gags its workers' safety concerns? I doubt it.
Whistleblower protection is sound public safety policy. Today I want to focus on three key reasons this legislation will improve aviation safety.
The Aviation Safety Protection Act is pro-business.
It will assist an already overworked FAA in improving aviation safety by encouraging front-line safety professionals to report problems.
Finally, passage of this bill will help restore public confidence in our industry.
You will hear from the airlines that our concerns do not warrant Federal whistleblower protection and that, in fact, it would be a new, burdensome regulation. The airlines will argue that they monitor their own safety and encourage employees to bring forward their concerns, and for many of our airlines this is true, and they have nothing to fear in this legislation.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Unfortunately, judging by the number of fines, groundings, and investigations by the FAA, it has become apparent that some airlines do cut corners, do discourage employee participation in safety matters, and do compromise safety.
This legislation will benefit the airlines just as much as it benefits its workers. If the management of an airline decides to compromise safety in order to lower its costs, aviation workers should be able to step forward and report their concerns.
The end result would be a safer, stronger airline and airline industry.
I am very pleased to learn that ValuJet Airlines has endorsed this legislation. ValuJet's support should send a message to all airlines. It is sound business policy to support whistleblower protection and to encourage employee participation in airline safety matters.
This legislation would assist the FAA as it regulates aviation safety. As this subcommittee well knows, the FAA does not have the resources necessary to place an inspector on each aircraft and monitor every repair.
The FAA's limitations today, coupled with the fact that aviation experts believe the airline industry will experience rapid growth into the 21st century, should signal a challenge we must address.
Yet, Americans have a work force ready to provide an additional layer of safety. Flight attendants, pilots, and mechanics are trained safety professionals. We fly each plane, conduct safety checks on each aircraft, work in each cabin, and perform each repair. If something is wrong with an aircraft, aviation workers are most likely to be the first to identify the problem.
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Without whistleblower protection, however, the Federal Government places aviation workers in a difficult position of risking their careers to report incidents when airlines have knowingly compromised safety.
Rather than punish these aviation specialists, we should applaud and commend workers who speak out. At the very minimum, we should protect them.
Enactment of this bill would also help to restore public confidence in our industry. The tragic crash of ValuJet flight 592 has raised new concerns over airline safety. Americans have grown wary of airlines and the Federal Government simply asserting that the industry is safe.
While we all agree that flying remains the safest means of travel in the world, this statistic does not comfort Americans.
With the combined efforts of the airlines, aviation workers, and the Federal Government, we can make it safer.
In closing, Americans have benefitted when workers have stepped forward to help Federal authorities enforce safety laws in other industries. Likewise, airline passengers will benefit when aviation workers, the experts in safety, have the protection to voice their concerns.
Congress should not ask airline passengers to accept anything less from our industry.
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Americans' anxieties over safe skies have challenged the industry, its workers, and the Federal Government to do everything possible to maintain the integrity of our industry.
Aviation workers want to do more, but we cannot until Congress enacts this important legislation.
Many accidents could be prevented when safety concerns and information are identified, reported, and acted upon.
Again, thank you for holding this important hearing. If you have any questions, I would be happy to answer them.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Ms. Friend.
Next we'll hear from Ms. Clayton.
Ms. CLAYTON. My name is Susan Clayton, and I am the local president of the Association of Flight Attendants for ValuJet Airlines. I am responsible for the union's day-to-day dealings with ValuJet on everything from safety matters and discipline to collective bargaining and employee assistance. I have been a ValuJet flight attendant since 1994.
Thank you, Chairman Duncan and Representative Lipinski, for holding this hearing. Whistleblower protection for aviation workers is an issue very important to my members.
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I also want to express my appreciation to Representative Clyburn for sponsoring this much-needed legislation.
On behalf of the flight attendants at ValuJet, I want to join calls requesting this subcommittee's assistance in securing the resumption of flights by ValuJet Airlines. Flight attendants, along with other ValuJet employees, do not want to see ValuJet go out of business. We want the airline fixed.
I look forward to the day when ValuJet is a safe airline that recognizes and rewards the dedication and hard work of its employees.
You may have seen this ad that ValuJet placed in ''Roll Call'' on Monday questioning my authority to speak for ValuJet flight attendants. This ad illustrates how important whistleblower protection is. Many flight attendants are so worried about harassment and losing their jobs that they signed this company petition. It is easy to see that they would never risk coming forward with safety complaints. The ad sends a clear message to anyone who would speak out: Susan Clayton spoke out, and look what the company did to her.
Let me also point out to anyone who has been deliberately misled by this ad, at least 24 of the names are supervisors, not flight attendants. Many of the flight attendants listed have said to me that they were intimidated into signing by their supervisor. Others have said they were lied to about the content of the statement or were told only about part of the text. But, most important, many flight attendants signed out of fear that if they refused they would not be called back to work.
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As president of the only local union representing many of the workers at ValuJet, I have been a lightning rod for complaints and concerns from flight attendants about everything from low pay and horrible working conditions to safety and fair treatment.
Most view the union as the only place to turn, the only hope for getting a problem corrected.
It is clear to me why so many complaints have come across my desk. Flight attendants were afraid to speak out publicly. They were afraid they would lose their jobs, and with good reason.
All ValuJet employees know the company has a practice of firing large numbers of flight attendants with little or no justification. Some simply quit out of frustration and concern for their personal safety. If they had been protected, they could have spoken out themselves, safety issues would have been addressed, and they still might be flying today.
Flight attendants and other employees come to me because I am the whistleblower. I have spoken out when others were afraid. I have taken on management when others would not. But I am here today because I need your help.
Precisely because I have spoken out, I have been targeted for attack by management in a concentrated campaign that I believe will lead to my firing. You have already seen the advertisement. Supervisors have used the petition drive to systematically undercut my authority as a democratically-elected leader of the ValuJet flight attendants.
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One supervisor has said that it has already been determined that I will not be recalled when ValuJet resumes operations. One of the company's attorneys has told my union that he has recommended that I be fired. The law does not even protect me for testifying here today, and again today company representatives will attack me in their testimony, even when both AFA and the company are here to support the legislation.
It is ironic to me that I am protected by law for my union activity, but not for reporting safety violations. If the company is able to silence me, it will be because no law protects me from being a whistleblower. I have spoken out, but without whistleblower protection, many flight attendants have not.
When flight attendants were repeatedly injured by faulty cockpit doors, AFA complained to management. Shoddy repairs did little to solve the problem, leaving some flight attendants with permanent injuries.
Another flight attendant came to me after she witnessed major safety violations. I had to tell her that if she spoke out, she would have little protection. When she did come forward, the company's response was to send her to a psychiatrist. She was later forced to quit because of her safety concerns, and the company repeatedly denied the incidents had occurred. There was no law to protect her.
I was personally threatened by the FAA's principal operations inspector when I called about a flight attendant who had reported a safety violation. Other flight attendants had also reported safety violations, but no one showed much interest in our concern.
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When I again questioned the POI, I remember him specifically threatening me. He said, ''You better watch out, young lady, or there is going to be real trouble.'' I could not believe my ears. Was he threatening me? Wasn't he there to protect the airline passengers and workers?
Only after intervention by AFA's International President, Patricia Friend, did ValuJet management admit the safety violation had occurred.
ValuJet eventually set up a safety hotline, but hotlines alone do not solve safety problems. Employees who are worried that reporting safety violations may cost them their jobs simply will not come forward.
For example, despite the ability of the DOT Inspector General's office to provide some protection, their investigators had to ask me, personally, to call many employees and try to encourage them to come forward with safety information.
The Aviation Safety Protection Act is in the best interest of the airline, its employees, and passengers. When aviation workers speak out, everyone gains.
I understand that ValuJet is here today to endorse this legislation. I want to be the first to thank the company for their support and express my hope that this is the beginning of a new working relationship between AFA and the company.
Please pass Representative Clyburn's legislation and lift the unwritten gag order placed on aviation workers.
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Thank you for inviting me to share my experiences with the subcommittee. If you have any questions, I would be happy to answer them.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Ms. Clayton.
Next we'll go to Ms. Halperin.
Ms. HALPERIN. Chairman Duncan and members of the subcommittee. Good afternoon. My name is Mimi Halperin, and I am a ValuJet flight attendant, although I am currently furloughed.
I'd like to thank the members of the subcommittee for inviting me to testify on this very important piece of legislation that's under consideration today.
I have been a flight attendant for a little more than 25 years, and I typically fly about 80 hours in a month. I began my career with Eastern Airlines in 1967 and I was working there when it closed in 1991. During that time I received the Eastern Airlines' five-star award, which was the airline's highest safety award, and that recognized the outstanding performance of a crew member during an emergency situation.
I joined ValuJet when it began operations in 1993, and as a member of the very first flight attendant class I participated in the airline's initial flights, which are called ''proving runs,'' and also in a demonstration of an aircraft evacuation for the FAA, both of which are required for initial certification for the airline to fly.
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In the past 3 years, I have participated as an instructor in ValuJet's training programs for flight attendants, and I have been selected to serve on an NTSB investigation team.
I'm joined here today by a fellow crew member from ValuJet, Captain Ron Merzlak. He has over 35 years of flying experience and has logged about 20,000 miles in the air. Captain Merzlak is available to you to answer any questions that might be outside my realm of technical expertise today.
As an aviation safety professional, I support any measure to enhance aviation safety, including the Aviation Safety Protection Act of 1996. Every airline, every aviation safety professional should support this legislation as an indication of their commitment to the very highest level of safety.
It has been my experience in almost 30 years in this business that flight attendants take their safety responsibilities very seriously, even if our customers do not always realize our role in ensuring the safety of the aircraft.
Because of our commitment to safety, we will take advantage of any and all channels of communication that are available to raise safety concerns.
When I came to ValuJet, I was pleased to see that the airline had made safety its number one priority. ValuJet has in place a number of ways in which to raise safety concerns, such as the anonymous safety hotline, frequent conferences available with our in-flight supervisors, and a flight attendant training department that's available to answer any questions or do any research at any time for us.
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ValuJet has also embraced an open door policy that extends to every department from our direct supervisors all the way up to the president of our company, Lewis Jordan, to answer any questions or concerns that we might have at any time.
I have personally found that ValuJet responds quickly to any questions or concerns raised by flight attendants and takes prompt actioncorrective action, if it's necessary.
One particular activity I think is very helpful. In every annual required flight attendant recurrent training class, a representative from the maintenance department is made available to address any questions. I had occasion to ask a question in a class not long ago, and 2 days later I received a written response from the vice president of our maintenance department.
Because of my own experiences and those of many flight attendants with whom I fly or whom I have trained, I'm surprised by the negative claims made by a few of my colleagues about ValuJet's safety commitment.
Obviously, everyone has the right to express their personal views to the press and to Congress, but when a colleague began going on television after the tragic crash of our flight 592 and claimed to speak for the flight attendants of ValuJet, many of us realized that we had to express our views that, based on our experience, ValuJet is strongly committed to safety.
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I present to the subcommittee a letter which was signed by the majority of ValuJet flight attendants. The letter states in part, ''We want to refute the reckless media statements made by one individual who claims to represent the interest of our flight attendant family. She claims to be our spokesperson, but nothing could be further from the truth. Her views in no way reflect the views of most of ValuJet's flight attendants. We believe her comments unjustified and factually incorrect.''
Virtually all of the flight attendants contacted signed the letter.
We believe in this airline. We know it's safe. Personally, I'm the mother of an 8-year-old boy, I would never fly an airline if I had any reason to worry about my own safety. My family means too much to me.
The hundreds of flight attendants who signed this letter are safety professionals like me. They would not board an airplane unless they had full confidence in the crew and in the airline.
The vast majority of ValuJet flight attendants recognize the airline's dedication to addressing all safety concerns raised by employees, customers, the Government.
I support the Aviation Safety Protection Act because it would enforce this commitment throughout the industry by protecting employees who provide safety information to the Federal Government or who report safety concerns to their airline.
I also appeal to the subcommittee to work with the FAA to ensure that ValuJet can return to service and that we can return to work in the very near future.
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One of the reasons that I enjoy working for ValuJet is because I feel good that ValuJet's affordable fares enable millions of people to travel. Many are people who would not otherwise be able to fly.
If the members of the subcommittee could spend just a fraction of the time that I do with our customers, I think you would know how important ValuJet is to them and to our industry.
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify today. I'd be happy to answer any questions.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Ms. Halperin.
We have been joined by some other members of the subcommittee, and I want to give them the chance to make any statement before we proceed with the questions.
Mr. Ehlers, do you have a statement you wish to make at this time?
Mr. EHLERS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. In the interest of time, I will not make a statement. Thank you.
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Cramer?
Mr. CRAMER. Same for me, Mr. Chairman. In the interest of time, I don't think it's fair for me to make a statement now. Thank you.
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Mr. DUNCAN. Ms. Brown?
Ms. BROWN. I would like to submit my statement to the record, but I want to strongly commend my colleague, Congressman Clyburn, for introducing this bill that I 100 percent support and would like to sign on as a major co-sponsor.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Brown follows:]
Mr. DUNCAN. All right. Thank you very much.
I'm going to go, for the first round of questions, to the sponsor of the legislation, Mr. Clyburn.
Mr. CLYBURN. Mr. Chairman, let me thank the members of the panel for the testimony. I think that all that I've heard today is very, very good. I don't know of anything that I would disagree with.
I want to say to Ms. Clayton that, in listening to her, and I think I saw it in her statement, that she, too, is very supportive of us doing what we can to help ValuJet get back to flying again, and I was very pleased to hear that.
Let me say, though, Mr. Chairman, it has been said here time and time again that, though the witness list may lead to a different conclusion, our interest in this legislation, as far as this committee is concerned and this subcommittee, is at least 8 years old, and we want that to be understood by everybodythat we are here because of an issue that goes far beyond any one airline or has anything to do with any one incident.
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I don't know of anything that has been said by these three witnesses today that would lead to any further questions on my part, but I did want to reiterate that statement.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Clyburn.
Mr. LAHOOD. Ms. Clayton, which airline do you work for?
Ms. CLAYTON. For ValuJet.
Mr. LAHOOD. Your testimony does not contradict what Ms. Halperin said, right? I mean, you're both on the same wavelength with respect to this legislation? Is that safe to say?
Ms. CLAYTON. Yes.
Mr. LAHOOD. Are the vast majority of employees of ValuJet former Eastern Airline employees?
Ms. CLAYTON. I know we have quite a few of Eastern flight attendants. We have a lot of flight attendants that are brand new to the industry. I myself flew for TWA and Delta, so we have a mixture there of people with past experience.
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Mr. LAHOOD. Ms. Halperin, you have no dispute with the other two witnesses, right, about this legislation?
Ms. HALPERIN. Not about support of the legislation, sir. That's correct.
Mr. LAHOOD. Yes. Could you identify the person you were making reference to in your testimony?
Ms. HALPERIN. You're referring to the person in the letter?
Mr. LAHOOD. Correct.
Ms. HALPERIN. That's to Ms. Clayton.
Mr. LAHOOD. Thank you. Do you think that there would be more reports of incidents about safety items if this legislation were passed?
Ms. HALPERIN. I don't have available to me, just as a line flight attendant, the reports that do come in to the company regarding
Mr. LAHOOD. I guess I'm asking you for a subjective point of view. Do you think, in your association of over 30 years with flight attendants, that more of them would come forward under the protection of a law that was passed by Congress?
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Ms. HALPERIN. I think it would be very helpful. That's why I really do support this legislation, because anything that is an additional layer of protection and support I think would be helpful. And, of course, this applies not just to flight attendants, but to all employees of the airlines.
Mr. LAHOOD. Can we assume, then, that there are many incidents that are not reported because people feel there is going to be some retribution carried on against them by the airlines?
Ms. HALPERIN. I certainly wouldn't assume that. I know that in my experience, especially at ValuJet, I have never had any kind ofany reason to think that there would be any kind of retribution. I just think that one more piece in place to give an employee peace of mind, to allay any kind of worries about retribution would be very helpful.
Mr. LAHOOD. I wonder if the other two witnesses could respond to that. I don't know whether you have statistics or not. Do you think that there would be a lot more incidents of reports of problems under the shield of this law that could be passed by Congress or would be passed?
Ms. FRIEND. Yes, we do. We do believe there will be a lot more.
We don't have statistics, but when we put out a letter to all of our AFA flight attendants to 24 different carriers we represent, asking them to assist us in supporting this legislation, and asking them also to phone our government affairs offices if they had questions or concerns, even we were shocked at the number of people who called in and at the variety of the U.S. air carriers where they worked that called us and said, ''I am so happy that we're supporting this legislation, because this happened to me. I had a problem. I went to my supervisor. My supervisor said, 'Don't call the FAA, because if you do you'll be in trouble.'''
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So we believe that there are a lot of incidents out there where people would use this shield and this protection to bring to the attention of the FAA and, if necessary, the Congress, some violations and some safety compromises that exist in the industry today.
Mr. LAHOOD. Ms. Clayton, do you have anything to say?
Ms. CLAYTON. I have had mechanics who have said that they could never report safety violations because they would be blacklisted from the industry, and I've had a lot of flight attendants come to me who were too afraid to report something. So yes, I think a lot of people would come forward and report violations if this was in.
Mr. CLYBURN. Could I ask a question?
Mr. LAHOOD. Of course. Sure, Mr. Clyburn. Absolutely.
Mr. CLYBURN. Thank you very much.
There is one thing I think we ought to take into account here, especially as it relates to your line of questioning. This legislation includes coverage of contractors and subcontractors with the airlines, and that, to me, I think is very, very important for us to understand.
This is not just the airline, but anybody that you may contract and subcontract with.
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It's my understanding that in many instances the maintenance of the airplanes has been contracted out.
Also, if we were to look at the whole ValuJet incident, and if we were to accept what the preliminary notions seem to be, then maybe the cause of that accident had absolutely nothing to do with ValuJet, but had to do with a contractor doing business with ValuJet. This legislation would go to them, as well.
I wanted to point that out.
Mr. LAHOOD. That's a good point, and I think many of us on this subcommittee were astounded by the idea that came out in a previous hearing that the chairman had when it was discovered that the people that actually loaded the boxes were twice removed from actually being involved with ValuJet. They were actuallythey weren't even hired by SabreTech. They were hiredthey were employees of somebody else who had subcontracted.
I think that came as a totalit came as a total surprise to me. It really did. I'm glad you make that point with respect to your legislation, because I think it is an important point to make.
Do you thinkand I'll finish. This will be my last question, Mr. Chairman. Do you think that, because we have not had this legislation, that the flying public has flown on unsafe equipment and/or in unsafe circumstances?
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. FRIEND. I don't think we will ever know that for sure. I don't think there is any way to know how many unsafe situations existed which did not result in a tragedy. But I do know that the confidence in our U.S. airline industry has been shaken, and I think that this would gothis legislation would go a long way toward restoring that confidence.
Mr. LAHOOD. Ms. Halperin?
Ms. HALPERIN. Yes, I do agree with that statement. It's very hard to know what may have happened or may not have happened, but I think that this legislation would serve as a protection for the airline employees, but it is one more way to reassure the traveling public that everything is being done to maintain the highest level of safety.
Mr. LAHOOD. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. LaHood.
Ms. DANNER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I do have a few questions.
The first question would be of Ms. Friend. I noticed in your testimonyand I do apologize for having to leave the room and missing your respective testimonies, but when one has ten constituents come unexpectedly, one can understand that you're going to leave the room for a moment in time.
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But I do see, in looking over your testimony, that in 1988 you or someone in your stead appeared before a committee and subsequently H.R. 5073 was approved. What happened to that legislation? Did it die in the Senate, or do you know?
Ms. FRIEND. Yes. It died in the Senate.
Ms. DANNER. Is there like legislation introduced on the Senate side at this time, or is the same thing going to happen again?
Mr. CLYBURN. I would hope the same thing would not happen again, but this is a first step.
Ms. DANNER. Okay.
Mr. CLYBURN. I don't know of anything on the Senate side.
Ms. DANNER. In other words, this committee acted 8 years ago and nothing has transpired?
Ms. FRIEND. Since then. That's correct.
Ms. DANNER. Okay. Very good. My next questionthank you very muchis for Ms. Clayton. In hurriedly looking over your testimony, I see you address the issue that Reuters brings up in their news release regarding a Richard Bunch. According to Reuters, he was to testify today. I don't know where they got their information. All I know is, like Will Rogers, what I read in the paper.
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Why isn't he here? Do you happen to know?
Ms. FRIEND. I think maybe it's more appropriate for me to answer the question. Yes. As a result of an incident that took place following Mr. Bunch's termination from ValuJet for the reporting of a safety violation, Mr. Bunch's credibility has been called into question by ValuJet in a move which, I might add, we consider to be further retaliation against Mr. Bunch for his reporting of the safety violation, and because we wanted the focus of this hearing to be on the legislation on the whistleblower protection and not on one individual, we chose not to have him testify and not have him become the focus of this hearing.
Ms. DANNER. Once again, according to Reuters, which we're always handed a sheaf of different things that are going on in the industry, including railroad, etc., in leafing through this I see, though, that it says, ''The incident was later investigated by the FAA and was found to be a violation of Federal safety regulations.'' So the FAA has investigated.
Ms. FRIEND. That's correct.
Ms. DANNER. And it has said that it was a violation.
Ms. FRIEND. That's correct. In fact
Ms. DANNER. So he, indeed, legitimately turned in something that turned out to be a violation of safety rules.
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Ms. FRIEND. Yes. In fact, we haveand I'm not sure whether we've submitted it for the record, but if we haven't we willwe have a letter from Mr. Broderick to us confirming the fact that investigation revealed that, in fact, a violation occurred and that ValuJet was fined for that violation.
Ms. DANNER. I see. And prior to Richard Bunch turning in this hotline information, there was no personnel record that indicated he was going to be discharged at that time. It took place after he contacted the hotline. The termination took place after he contacted the hotline.
Ms. FRIEND. That's correct.
Ms. DANNER. And he has not been reinstated by ValuJet at this time?
Ms. FRIEND. He has not been reinstated. There is legal action on his wrongful termination that is pending.
Ms. DANNER. And I would assume thatwell, you allI mean, the ValuJet employees are not unionized, are they?
Ms. FRIEND. The flight attendants are. Yes. We represent the ValuJet flight attendants.
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. DANNER. So you're representingthe flight attendants' union is representing Richard Bunch before
Ms. FRIEND. That's correct. We have taken legal action on his behalf to have him restored to his position.
Ms. DANNER. As it should be. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Ms. Danner.
Mr. COBLE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
As we said at the outset, Mr. Chairman, this hearing was not to be about ValuJet, but I guess the nature of the beast may involve ValuJet one way or another.
As indicated, Mr. Chairman, by my opening statement, in which I expressed regret concerning a friend of mine who has been yanked around by the Federal Government because he was a whistleblower, I realize that there are also situations where whistleblowers, perhaps annoyed with their employer, may come forward and falsely blow whistles. I'm not suggesting that we protect these people.
Then this becomes a very delicate, fragile line that we must negotiate.
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Ms. Halperin, Ms. Clayton indicated that the letter to which you referred that bears about, I guess between 350 and 400 signatures of flight attendantsMs. Clayton said that they were not all flight attendants. Is that correct?
Ms. HALPERIN. The signatures on the letter include furloughed flight attendants, some supervisors who, of course, are flight attendants, but all on furlough, as wellmajority on furlough, I should say.
Mr. COBLE. So every signature that appears here would be that of a flight attendant?
Ms. HALPERIN. That's correct.
Mr. COBLE. Ms. Claytonand I'm paraphrasing now. I'm not quoting you exactly, but I think you said that ValuJet had a reputation for firing large number of employees. Elaborate in some detail about that.
Ms. CLAYTON. ValuJet admittedly said that they fired about 15 flight attendants a month. We had an extremely high turn-over rate with the flight attendants, which added to the intimidation.
Mr. COBLE. Do you know any details that surround these firings?
Ms. CLAYTON. Yes. Some of them I do. There were just too many to keep up with at that point.
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Mr. COBLE. Well, I guess where I'm coming from, sometimes a person is fired with cause.
Ms. CLAYTON. Right. Absolutely.
Mr. COBLE. Would this be the case in some of your situations?
Ms. CLAYTON. A few of them were. Yes. And if they ever came to me with something and they had done something wrong, I told them, you know, ''This is the airline industry. It's not like another job. You're responsible for being to your job on time.''
Mr. COBLE. Give us an example where a person who was fired was fired without cause.
Ms. CLAYTON. Well, let's see. I had one flight attendant who, when she was called in to a meeting with a supervisor, and the supervisor told her that she had violated two major safety violations. We went back and investigated. One of those reasons was not even a safety violation, and the other one would not have cost the company any money. It would have been a fine for the flight attendant.
When we brought this back to the attention of the director, shethey still wouldn't reinstate her.
We had another flight attendant who was terminated specifically for being late for a flight one morning. When we went back and checked why, she had been doing a stand-up the night before. She got in after her check-in time and went immediately to her next flight.
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When we brought this to the attention of the director of in-flight, she then went back and said, ''Well, you were late on this day.''
We brought in newspaper articles showing why she was late. There had been a trash truck that had overturned on the interstate and closed the interstate down. We brought the newspaper articles in. Then they came back and said, ''Well, you were 10 minutes late on this date.'' It was just continuous.
Mr. COBLE. This gives me some idea as to what I'm seeking. When you said ''large numbers,'' what do you mean by ''large numbers''?
Ms. FRIEND. Mr. Coble, if I can interject, we did some calculations when we first began representing the ValuJet flight attendants. If the same percentage of flight attendants were fired on a monthly basis at United Airlines as was being terminated at ValuJet, United Airlines would be terminating between 600 and 1,000 of their flight attendants every month. So we concluded that that was probably an excessive rate.
What we also understood is that in some cases there might be a reason; in other cases there might not be. It was all very subjective, which was part of what drove the group of flight attendants to seek union representation, so that they would have, at the very least, a dispute resolution so that they could contest what they saw as terminations without cause.
We have not
Page 46 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. COBLE. You mean the 600 to 1,000, you're pro-rating that based upon the comparable number of attendants?
Ms. FRIEND. Right. We're saying the same percentage of the total work force that was being terminated on a monthly basis of ValuJet, if you terminated that same percentage of flight attendants at United Airlines on a monthly basis, then United Airlines would be terminating between 600 to 1,000 of their flight attendants every month.
Mr. COBLE. Okay.
Ms. FRIEND. That's how high the percentage is.
Mr. COBLE. Let me move along here, because the chairman doesn't like it when he sees that red light illuminate. I have a couple more quick questions.
Ms. Clayton, prior the its grounding, did you believe that ValuJet was a safe airline?
Ms. CLAYTON. Well, to try to get back to the whistleblower legislation, we
Mr. COBLE. No.
Ms. CLAYTON. I'm just saying
Page 47 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. COBLE. Hold it, Ms. Clayton. Time is running. My chairman doesn't like red lights illuminating, so I'm racing the clock here.
Ms. CLAYTON. Well, we had brought to the attention
Mr. COBLE. Do you want me to repeat the question?
Ms. CLAYTON. of the director of safety, Lloyd Prince, at ValuJet, and also our POI, which was Bob Bruce, and the FAA hotline
Mr. COBLE. No. You're not responding to my question, Ms. Clayton. Did you believe that ValuJet was a safe airline prior to its grounding? Yes or no?
Ms. CLAYTON. No, I didn't feel like they were a safe airline.
Mr. COBLE. But yet you continued to work with that airline and perhaps even flew with the airline?
Ms. CLAYTON. Yes.
Mr. COBLE. Feeling in your mind it was unsafe?
Ms. CLAYTON. Well, because we were trying to fix a lot of the problems. We believed ValuJet could be a great airline, but there were just some problems that needed to be fixed.
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Mr. COBLE. But you would continue to work and to even fly with an airline when, in your mind, you felt it was not safe?
Ms. CLAYTON. Yes. I did. I didn't have
Mr. COBLE. On that astounding answer, Mr. Chairman, I yield back my time.
Mr. DUNCAN. All right. Thank you very much, Mr. Coble.
Mr. DEFAZIO. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I don't know why anyone would find that astounding. You have to work. You have got to pay your mortgage. Some people are working in conditions, as has been well-documented, in many industries that they consider unsafe.
I just helped a number of employees at a sawmill in my District that anonymously complained to OSHA because they were in fear of losing their jobs if they complained to OSHA, about what they considered to be very unsafe working conditions.
I think it's a very common occurrence, and I'm amazed that the gentleman is amazed.
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Ms. Halperin, who wrote this letter?
Ms. HALPERIN. This letter was a combination effort of about five or six of us very concerned line flight attendants.
Mr. DEFAZIO. So it was your idea, you initiated it with other flight attendants? It wasn't the idea of management? Management wasn't involved?
Ms. HALPERIN. No. This was very much a grassroots effort by a group of very frustrated flight attendants.
Mr. DEFAZIO. And why did you choose to not mention the legislation and to run, since you support this legislation, to run the letter this week in ''Roll Call'' magazine?
Ms. HALPERIN. Well, the letter was justas a matter of fact, it's still being completed.
Mr. DEFAZIO. Well, what am I reading? Is this not the entire text of the letter in ''Roll Call'' magazine, a paid-for advertisement, paid for by ValuJet Airlines?
Ms. HALPERIN. There are some additional names.
Page 50 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DEFAZIO. But I mean the text of the letter. Why did
Ms. HALPERIN. That's correct. The text of the letter is complete.
Mr. DEFAZIO. So you didn'tso you felt for some reason it was very important to attack Ms. Clayton's credibility this week, but not to mention your outstanding support for this legislation and the need for the legislation?
Ms. HALPERIN. As you know, ValuJet has very much been the target of a tremendous amount of negative press, and, as I said, quite a few of us were so frustrated by that that we wanted to make a public statement of our own, and that resulted in this letter.
Mr. DEFAZIO. But, again, as you can see, the committee is very much distracted by this letter fromand the hearing is distracted by this letter from the legislation. You support the legislation? You believe that all the people in this letter would probably support the legislation, or a majority of them?
Ms. HALPERIN. I do, sir.
Mr. DEFAZIO. Okay. Ms. Clayton, could youwhat are the reckless media statements youor maybe I should ask Ms. Halperin. Would you give me one of the reckless media statements?
Page 51 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. HALPERIN. I think that it was particularly irresponsible of Ms. Clayton to go on television and speak to a lot of our local news programs and in the newspapers right after the tragic crash of our flight 592 and cite things that were, for instance, overflowing toilets and people flying with bleeding ears, that all pointed somehow to a lack of safety concern. I just
Mr. DEFAZIO. Were there ever overflowing toilets?
Ms. HALPERIN. Not for very long.
Mr. DEFAZIO. Well
Ms. HALPERIN. You just had to call and get it taken care of.
Mr. DEFAZIO. And who was flying with bleeding ears? Flight attendants or pilots?
Ms. HALPERIN. I have no idea.
Mr. DEFAZIO. Ms. Clayton?
Ms. HALPERIN. I've never seen that.
Ms. CLAYTON. Flight attendants.
Page 52 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DEFAZIO. Flight attendants?
Ms. CLAYTON. Yes.
Mr. DEFAZIO. So they were flying sick?
Ms. CLAYTON. Yes.
Mr. DEFAZIO. And isn't that a violation of the FAA guidelines?
Ms. CLAYTON. Well, you're
Ms. FRIEND. That's a subject for another hearing, which we would be most anxious to attend, and that is why flight attendants, as safety professionals, are not licensed or certificated, and thus do not have those sorts of restrictionsthe same restrictions that apply to pilots about flying ill. Although almost every one of our employers will say, ''Of course, we don't want you to fly sick,'' as a prelude to saying, ''But if you are sick too often, then perhaps this is not the job for you.''
Mr. DEFAZIO. But my understanding is that flight attendantsI always hear it. I hear it 200,000 miles a yearis our first job is for your safety, so how could a not-well flight attendant be in optimal form? I mean, we've finally applied flight duty time to flight attendants because of safety concerns, but we haven't applied restrictions on flying while ill?
Page 53 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. FRIEND. That's correct. We have not reached the point where we're willing to acknowledge that a flight attendant is ashould be a licensed safety professional.
Mr. DEFAZIO. Well, we wouldn't have to license them to have an FAA requirement thatI don't know if
Ms. FRIEND. We wouldn't have to, butand I would certainly love to discuss this with you further and see where we can go with it.
Mr. DEFAZIO. Like my predecessor in questions, I'm amazed that the FAAof course, it would perhaps disrupt the schedules of certain airlines, and we know that the FAA wouldn't want to put any more burdens on the airlines, even if it involved the illness of a critical safety employee.
I don't think I have any further questions at this time, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. DeFazio.
Mr. FRISA. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Is it possibleand this is to all of you, and then ask you each to briefly respond, if you wouldthat this legislation could be considered to be necessary because even though the corporate policy might be, in most cases, to willingly welcome information about safety problems, between those of you on the front line, so to speak, either on the aircraft or on the ground, and the very top levels of the corporate structure of the companythe CEO and the board and othersthat there could be personnel in between who, on their own, for their own concerns about what their supervisors, between them and the upper levels, what their reactions might be, that this legislation could set up a framework to resolve those kinds of concerns?
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Secondly, are you aware of any of those situations where maybe you or people you know have reported safety concerns and it's gotten lost somewhere in the big, gray middle?
Ms. HALPERIN. I think it's a possibility that should be addressed that there would be a chance that something could get lost in the middle between, as you say, the front-line person and the very top management, and this would be a very good safeguard for that.
Personally, I'm not aware of a situation like that. I think maybe some of that is because of the small size of ValuJet now, and it is easy to get to someone, whether it's the first level of management or a higher up because of the open door policy.
I think this would be a good safeguard.
Mr. FRISA. Ms. Friend?
Ms. FRIEND. I think absolutely that that is what happens. I think most of our U.S. carriers do have a corporate policy that is intended to include the employees in safety issues, but it is sometimes very difficult to get through that layer, that bureaucratic layer.
Mr. FRISA. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Page 55 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Frisa.
Ms. Danner wants to ask one more question.
Ms. DANNER. One last question. Ms. Halperin, I've just had shown to me the ad that ValuJet placed in ''Roll Call.'' I had not seen this prior to this time. It has what we in politics call a ''disclaimer,'' paid for by ValuJet, and yet it's the same text as this.
Ms. HALPERIN. That's correct.
Ms. DANNER. Did you go to ValuJet and ask them to place this ad?
Ms. HALPERIN. We asked
Ms. DANNER. Yes or no.
Ms. HALPERIN. No, I did not go to ValuJet and ask them to place
Ms. DANNER. How did it come to be placed in ''Roll Call''?
Ms. HALPERIN. I turned over the signatures and the list that I had gathered to the person that was heading up this project, who was another ValuJet flight attendant.
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Ms. DANNER. Did they ask you
Ms. HALPERIN. I don't know what her
Ms. DANNER. and the people who signed the letterdid they ask you and the people who signed the letter if it was okay to place a paid ad?
Ms. HALPERIN. When we called peopleand I was one of the people who calledI read them the text and said the disposition of this would be to Members of Congress. I didn't know if it would be a
Ms. DANNER. You don't think, when you say ''to Members of Congress,''
Ms. HALPERIN. Yes, ma'am.
Ms. DANNER. and then you place a paid ad, you don't think that's a contradiction in terms? Are you assuming that the only people that get ''Roll Call'' are Members of Congress?
Ms. HALPERIN. No, ma'am, but I knew that we would be distributing it.
Ms. DANNER. As I read this, it saysI think I remember reading that over half the people who signed ityou questioned all of them as to whether they wanted their name in a paid ad?
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Ms. HALPERIN. We got through to as many as we possibly could, and I think a lot of people have scattered since the shut-down, and we left messages for quite a few of them.
Ms. DANNER. So a lot of the people who signed this letter did not know they were signing a paid ad?
Ms. HALPERIN. A paid ad?
Ms. DANNER. Isn't that what this is?
Ms. HALPERIN. They knew that they were signing something that would be distributed to Members of Congress.
Ms. DANNER. They were signing a letter, but they did not know they were signing a paid ad?
Ms. HALPERIN. I don't know that for sure.
Ms. DANNER. They apparently did not, according to what you've just told us.
You see, those of us who run for political office would never place a paid ad without having the permission of everyone who had signed, let us just say an endorsement of candidacy. But what you're saying is that, as I understand it, a number of people signed this letter that was to be distributed to Members of Congress, when, in reality, what ValuJet did was take this letter and make a paid ad out of it.
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Ms. HALPERIN. Well, the exact wording I know that I used when I contacted the people that I did on the list was that this would be distributed to Members of Congress, perhaps released to the press.
Ms. DANNER. Released to the press is different than a paid ad.
Ms. HALPERIN. Yes, ma'am.
Ms. DANNER. So they didn't know they were paying for a paid advertisement?
Ms. HALPERIN. No, ma'am.
Mr. EHLERS. Will the gentlewoman yield?
Ms. DANNER. Yes, I will.
Mr. EHLERS. I fail to understand the reason for your concern. This is quite different than a political campaign. This is a public document. It's produced as part of a hearing. I don't think there is that much difference between that and
Ms. DANNER. It was not produced as part of the hearing before it appeared in ''Roll Call,'' I would submit to my colleague.
Page 59 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. EHLERS. This is
Ms. DANNER. It is a question that I have an interest in, and I have an interest in the answer.
Mr. EHLERS. My point is simply that it's a public document. It's quite different than a campaign ad where someone is endorsing.
Ms. DANNER. No. I disagree with you. One does not sign a letter not recognizing that it's going to be placed in a commercial print newspaper. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. All right. Thank you, Ms. Danner.
Of course, Ms. Halperin, the signers did know that the letter was going to be made public.
Ms. HALPERIN. No. That's not correct.
Mr. DUNCAN. That's not correct?
Ms. HALPERIN. No. They knew that it would be made public.
Mr. DUNCAN. That's what I meant.
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Ms. HALPERIN. Yes.
Mr. DUNCAN. I'm going to try and proceed in the order in which people came to the hearing, and that means Mr. Bachus would go next.
Mr. BACHUS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
When I saw the ad in ''Roll Call'' I sort of took it as a campaign ad. I will say that.
Let me say this: first of all, Ms. Clayton, I want to apologize to you. No, I don't want to apologize to you because I didn't ask you the question, but you were asked a question, ''Prior to grounding, did you believe that ValuJet was a safe airline? If not, why did you continue to work for the airline and even fly with the airline?''
That type of question, asking employees if they continue to work at a place when they thought that it was unsafe, there has been a debate in jurisprudence for a 1,000 years about asking that question and whether it's proper or not. Sometimes it's allowed, sometimes it's not.
I can tell you that I was taught in law school that if you're defending a company, if you want to lose the case ask an employee that on a witness stand, because the jury willthe jury reacts in a very hostile way to that question being asked.
Page 61 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I did want to say that, because I think the history of mankind is that people sometimes work in unsafe conditions. So I'll make that comment.
I also want towe have said that this hearing isn't about ValuJet, but the testimony turns it back into a hearing about ValuJet's policies. I mean, it justwhether or not it does.
I want to say this: Ms. Halperin, I think sometimesValuJet is here to support this legislation, is it not?
Ms. HALPERIN. Absolutely, sir.
Mr. BACHUS. Yes. I am puzzled by one thing. When Ms. ClaytonI know in your statement you said that she claims to speak for the flight attendants of ValuJet; is that correct?
Ms. HALPERIN. Yes, sir.
Mr. BACHUS. Isn't she, in fact, the elected local president of or local executive president of one of the unions?
Ms. HALPERIN. Yes. She is the ValuJet representative from the union.
Mr. BACHUS. She was actually elected by the ValuJet flight attendants; is that correct?
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Ms. HALPERIN. Yes, she was.
Mr. BACHUS. In some respects, doesn't that make for the company spokesman, but when you elect someone as your local union president, don't you impliedly sort of elect them as your spokesman?
Ms. HALPERIN. Well, the intent of the statement in the letter I think is that so many of us are disappointed that
Mr. BACHUS. I understand that you're disappointed. I understand that.
Ms. HALPERIN. things that she keeps saying don't
Mr. BACHUS. I understand in hindsight you're disappointed that she said something that hurts the company you work for. I understand that, but, at the same time, it would only be natural, would it not, if, after a wreck like this, if you went to an employee for an opinion you might go to a local executive president who was elected by the membership?
Ms. HALPERIN. Yes. Absolutely.
Mr. BACHUS. Okay. That was my point.
Let me ask you this. Ms. Friend, let's move off ValuJet a minute. Can you make this committee aware of any other specific instances in which an airline has terminated an employee for bringing up safety concerns? Are there instances that you're aware of?
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Ms. FRIEND. There are not instances where the employee has been terminated, because the employee has been warned off before. We're simply not gettingthe reports are simply not being made because people have been warned off and have been fearful.
Mr. BACHUS. So you arethere areyou are aware of instances where they were warned off?
Ms. FRIEND. Yes.
Mr. BACHUS. What do you mean by ''warned off''? Give me an example.
Ms. FRIEND. It's typical of a flight attendantand I would suppose other aviation workers, although I'm certainly not authorized to speak on their behalf, but it certainly is typical of flight attendants, when they see something that concerns them or frightens them, or whatever, that they will go to the first-line supervision and talk about it, and it's only after they don't get satisfaction there that they start looking around for some place else, and that is the place where they are told by first-line supervision, ''Don't call the FAA. Don't go over my head. Don't make this public or you'll be in trouble.''
Mr. BACHUS. Okay. Do you think that there are cases when an employee goes too far? Let's say that they have a concern, and the FAA investigates that concern, and they continue to complain about something. Do you think
Page 64 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. FRIEND. I think it's absolutely possibleyou're dealing with human naturethat there could be frivolous complaints, and the legislation has provisions to deal with that.
Mr. BACHUS. All right.
Ms. FRIEND. It provides for up to a $5,000 fine if someone's found to be filing frivolous complaints. I assure you that on a flight attendant's salary, a $5,000 fine is very significant.
Mr. BACHUS. Okay. And there was a legitimate question asked earlier: what about flight attendants using this to keep employment or to just haveif they have a grievance and they just sort of use this to hide behind. But you're saying that the law has provisions to take care of that.
Ms. FRIEND. The legislation has a provision to protect against that. Yes.
Mr. BACHUS. Okay. I appreciate your answers.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Bachus.
Mr. GEREN. Mr. Chairman, I have no questions at this time. Thank you.
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Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much.
Mr. EHLERS. Thank you. I believe I can be fairly brief, because Mr. Bachus asked a number of the questions I was going to ask.
Ms. Halperin, the list of names on the letter, what percent of the flight attendants of ValuJet does that represent?
Ms. HALPERIN. I think there are 379, I believe, signatures on the letter, and we have about 670 flight attendants.
Mr. EHLERS. So it's about 50 percent?
Ms. HALPERIN. Yes. I think a little over, probably.
Mr. EHLERS. Okay. And, Ms. Clayton, you are elected by all of the flight attendants of ValuJet, or just those based in a particular location?
Ms. HALPERIN. By all of the flight attendants at ValuJet.
Mr. EHLERS. All the flight attendants?
Page 66 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. HALPERIN. At all of our bases. Yes.
Mr. EHLERS. Yes. All right. Fine. Thank you. And, since it has been established earlier you're elected, then I think if there is a disagreement between the flight attendants and you that will become apparent in the next election, just as when I get out of step with my constituents I find out very quickly at the next election, as well.
The other comment I wanted to make, I agree with a comment made earlier that this hearing, which is about the bill and which, incidentally, I think is a good idea and will support, depending on the rest of the testimony I hear, but I expect to support it, but I'm disappointed that this hearing has taken a turn toward yet another discussion of ValuJet.
I have raised the issue in prior hearings, and I want to raise it again. I think ValuJet has been treated very unfairly by the media throughout this whole incident. Accidents occur regularly. I have never seen a case in which there has been such an incredible feeding frenzy about a particular accident, particularly since it now appears fairly well-establishedwe don't have the final result yet, but it appears fairly well-established that the accident was not ValuJet's fault in any way. Yet, they have been crucified in the press day after day. I fail to understand that.
I'm also concerned about the FAA's treatment of the case. Obviously, they don't ground an airline for every accident, and it's just a very strange process that has happened here. I hope ValuJet has the ability to get operating again and redeem themselves and their reputation. I'm sure they will probably be the most safety-conscious airline in the world after what has happened.
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I wanted to get that on the record once again.
I thank you for your testimony.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Ehlers, thank you very much. I appreciate your statement. I and Mr. Clyburn and Mr. Coble, at the beginning of this hearing, tried to emphasize that this hearing, while we would get into certain aspects of ValuJet's operation, that it was not to be limited to ValuJet. Really almost by accident, we've ended up with more witnesseswith several witnesses who deal with ValuJet, but we've made offers to other unions and other airlines and other employees to come forward and testify if they wished to do so.
Certainly this legislation, though, would apply to the entire industry.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
All three of you support this legislation vigorously, correct? You have no reservations about it at all? It will help airline safety?
Ms. FRIEND. Yes.
Page 68 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. CLAYTON. Yes.
Ms. HALPERIN. Yes.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Wonderful. A little bit about ValuJet, just a couple questions.
On this letter to all Members of Congress, these are all flight attendants at ValuJet, correct?
Ms. CLAYTON. Sir, some of those names are members of management, directors of in-flight, in-flight supervisors, supervisors of training, and quite a few from the in-flight training department. If we were to have an election, those people would not be able to vote in the flight attendant election.
Mr. LIPINSKI. They're on here because they were flight attendants and they have been promoted within the company?
Ms. CLAYTON. I don't know why they're on there.
Ms. HALPERIN. Regardless of the current status, they are all qualified ValuJet flight attendants. That's correct.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Are all these people on this advertisement members of the union?
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Ms. CLAYTON. No, sir.
Mr. LIPINSKI. How many members of the union would you say are on here?
Ms. CLAYTON. I don't know. I didn't have a chance to go through and check off the members.
Mr. LIPINSKI. How many members are there of your union?
Ms. CLAYTON. There are less than 500.
Mr. LIPINSKI. And how many are there total flight attendants for ValuJet?
Ms. CLAYTON. There were 750 before the furlough, I believe. Right before the accident. Let me rephrase that.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Obviously, by the numbers you just gave me, some of these people on here definitely are members of the flight attendants' union?
Ms. CLAYTON. Yes. Yes, sir.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Thank you. I don't have any other questions, Mr. Chairman, other than to sayand it's not a question. It's a statement. I think this is an excellent piece of legislation. I'd like to see it moved as quickly as possible. We're going to have a couple of bills up on the floor very shortly.
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Perhaps we would be able to add this legislation to one of the bills that we've already passed here dealing with the aviation industry, because I think it would be a feather in all our caps if we could move this legislation as quickly as possible and make the American aviation industry even safer than it is, although I would like to say in conclusion that certainly I believe that American aviation is the safest aviation industry in the world.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. COBLE. Mr. Chairman, before you dismiss this panel, I'd like to be heard for about 60 seconds.
Mr. DUNCAN. Sure.
Mr. COBLE. At a time of your choice.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Coble. You certainly will be given that opportunity, and Mr. Clyburn, also.
Ms. Friend, let me ask you this. I'm trying to keep an open mind on this legislation until we hear from all of the witnesses, and possibly even have a second hearing, if we have anybody else who wants to testify on this, but I heard Mr. Bachus ask really an important question, and another Member came up to me, though, and was talking to me. I did not hear the response.
Page 71 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Do we know of any specific instances of any airlines getting rid of somebody because of reporting a safety violation? You said something about some had been warned off.
Ms. FRIEND. We do not have knowledge of any flight attendant represented by the Association of Flight Attendants who has been terminated for reporting a safety violation.
What we do have is reports from our members of their fear of filingof reporting that violation to the FAA or to the Congress because, in reporting it and speaking with first-line supervision, they have been warned off, they have been advised, ''If you take this outside the company, you will put your job in jeopardy.''
Mr. DUNCAN. How common is something like that?
Ms. FRIEND. It's more common than even we anticipated. We have, since we have gone public with our support of this legislation, we have received unsolicited calls in numbers really beyond what we expected from people saying, ''This happened to me. I am so happy that we are supporting this legislation because in this year at this time'' and it's from all of our AFA carriers. It's not from any one in particular.
Mr. DUNCAN. When you say ''calls beyond what you expected,'' what numbers are you talking about?
Ms. FRIEND. In the initial weeks, we were getting one or two calls every day. I don't know what the numbers are at this point.
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Mr. DUNCAN. Do you think that enough is done to let airline employees know that the FAA has hotlines where people can call, employees can call with anonymity to report safety violations? The reason I'm asking that, the FAA tells us that they receive between 10 and 25 calls a day from all sorts of people reporting anonymously safety violations.
Do most airline employees know that the FAA has services or procedures like that?
Ms. FRIEND. I don't believe that it's widely publicized, and I will tell you that we have made no effort to publicize it because, even though the FAA maintains that it is anonymous, it is not possible for a person to maintain complete anonymity.
That was the number that ValuJet flight attendant phoned and reported the safety violation who ultimately lost his job, simply because when the FAA begins the investigationwhich, of course, we want them to doas they narrow the investigation it becomes clear that there are only a certain number of people who are working a flight on a particular day in a particular area that would have had reason to observe this violation, so the concept of anonymity here is very misleading.
Mr. DUNCAN. Well, of course, apparently it is being pretty widely used, though, if they are receiving anywhere from 50 to 125 calls a week reporting violations.
Of course, it might be good to require the FAA to notify airline employees, upon being employed, that they do have a hotline like that.
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Well, I was going to ask Ms. Clayton a question or two, but she's gone.
Ms. FRIEND. She will be right back.
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Clyburn I think has another question.
Mr. CLYBURN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
There are a couple things I wanted to clear up, if I may respond to the issue raised by Mr. Coble.
Mr. Coble, this legislation, part of its design is to ferret out the kinds of complaints that you spoke of, and we have in the legislation the authority of the Secretary of Labor to bring action against anyone who may file a frivolous complaint.
As Ms. Friend said earlier, it could result in a $5,000 fine if anybody were to be found guilty of bringing any kind of frivolous complaints.
The other thing that I've heard, Mr. Chairman, is that the talk about why there are so many people from ValuJet as opposed to some other airlines, one of the things I have taken to since this legislation has been talked aboutand I did so as late as last evening when I came in. I came in on Delta Airlines last evening. I went home on USAir. I have never flown ValuJet, simply because I'm partial to Air South in my area. I don't have anything against the airlines in this particular segment of the industry; it's just that I support Air South and don't have any need to use ValuJet.
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But I do want all of you to know that I support this industryall segments of it. There is nothing here that you should feel is anything pointed at ValuJet.
But what I did last evening was ask the flight attendants with whom I came in contact about this legislation. Every single one of them are in favor of this legislation. None of them would accept a personal invitation to come here today.
I wanted to point that out. As late as last evening I invited the attendance of a flight attendant who said, ''Well, I'm all for it, but I don't think I want to go up there and testify about it.''
And so whatever the reasonI did not ask the reason, but whatever the reason, I wanted to point that out.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, from my experiences in the field of fair employment practices, one of the things I foundand I think would maybe be surprising to the members of the panel and to the public, as wellmore often than you would believe, in investigating allegations of discrimination we have found cause on the issue of retaliation when there was no cause on the original complaint. That happens very, very often.
And so my point is simply this: when you have this kind of legislation, it is helpful to management, as well.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
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Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Clyburn, and thank you for your entire statement. I think everyone, even Ms. Clayton, whose testimony was not favorable to ValuJet, did say that she hoped that ValuJet would be back up and flying very soon, and I think that would be best for all concernedsafely and at low cost, of course.
Mr. COBLE. Mr. Chairman, I thank you for this.
The hearing on H.R. 3187, a bill to provide protection for airline employee whistleblowers, has turned into a ValuJet hearing.
Let me be very brief. This is a good proposal the gentleman from South Carolina has proposed, in my opinion, Mr. Chairman, but my friend from Alabama seemed to have taken umbrage with a question that I put to Ms. Clayton.
I was by no means, Ms. Clayton, attempting to buggy-whip you with that question, which is sort of the implication of the gentleman from Alabama. No buggy-whipping intended at all.
Had the gentleman from Alabama, Mr. Chairman, read the question in this manner: prior torepeating my questionprior to its grounding, did you believe that ValuJet was a safe airline? If not, why did you continue to work for the airline, even fly with the airline?
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That's not the manner in which I asked the question at all. I first asked the question if, in her opinion, the airline was safe prior to grounding. And then Ms. Clayton, after consultation with Ms. Friend, replied that she thought it was not a safe airline.
I was merely, Ms. Clayton, attempting to get your opinion. Thather answer I don't think would declare whether the airline was safe or not safe, regardless of what Ms. Clayton's answer would have been, and it is my belief, Mr. Chairman, that the question was certainly proper.
I think Mr. Bachus, the gentleman from Alabama, seemed to be bothered with that question, and I'llhe and I will take each other to the wood shed subsequently and talk about that later.
My point was this: if I worked for a shirt factory and I think those shirts are defective, and if I need a job badly enough that I have to deliver those shirts, if I have five children or a wife at home counting on me, I would probably deliver those shirts. But if I worked for an airline and I don't think that airline's safe, I ain't going to fly that airline.
That was my point, Mr. Chairman, and I'm sorry the gentleman from Alabama didn't read it that way.
I thank the chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Coble.
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Mr. DEFAZIO. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
A number of things have been opened up here, but I just want to kind of give a little background.
I have been involved with the committee for a number of years, and we went through a series of very acrimonious hearings regarding Eastern Airlines, and the issue waswe had mechanics and others, pilots, coming in and saying, ''We're being forced by management to fly when the airline is not safe. They may be things that aren't going to cause a plane to crash, but we're not meeting the minimum equipment list for instrumentation, we're being made to sign off on work orders and things that are improper.''
There is a pattern here. Management came in and said, ''Absolutely not. These are all only disgruntled employees. They are all lying.''
Well, it turned out subsequently, as Mr. Lorenzo destroyed the airline, that, in fact, the employees were telling the truth. It came out in court later that, in fact, all these things were true and the employees were being intimidated, and that was part of the reasons for the strike.
Ms. Halperin, just to sort of go to some of your qualifications, you worked for Eastern?
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Ms. HALPERIN. Yes, sir. That's correct.
Mr. DEFAZIO. And you worked during this time. Did you participate in the strike?
Ms. HALPERIN. I participated in the strike.
Mr. DEFAZIO. You did. So you went on strike. So you were awarewere you aware of these concerns that were raised by employees at that time which were contested by management?
Ms. HALPERIN. Well, I was certainly aware of all of the turmoil
Mr. DEFAZIO. Was there an atmosphere of intimidation on the part of management?
Ms. HALPERIN. I didn't have any particular experience with that parcel of it.
Mr. DEFAZIO. Okay. And in this casenow, how did you come to ValuJet?
Ms. HALPERIN. How did I come to ValuJet?
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Mr. DEFAZIO. Yes. I mean, you just saw an ad and applied?
Ms. HALPERIN. That's exactly what happened.
Mr. DEFAZIO. Okay.
Ms. HALPERIN. I answered an ad in the paper.
Mr. DEFAZIO. Okay. And are you a member of the union?
Ms. HALPERIN. No, sir, I'm not.
Mr. DEFAZIO. Okay. Was there a union certification election?
Ms. HALPERIN. Yes, sir. There was.
Mr. DEFAZIO. And so you choseyou probablydid you support the union, or just didn't support this particular head of the union, or didn't support the union at all, didn't think the union was necessary?
Ms. HALPERIN. I really didn't think the union was necessary at the time that the vote for the certification was going on. I have since decided to kind of take a wait and see attitude and see if I liked what I saw from the union representation, since it washad come on the property.
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Mr. DEFAZIO. But I guess you've made up your mind now?
Ms. HALPERIN. I think so, sir.
Mr. DEFAZIO. Okay. How are people going to be recalled? Has management laid out any guidelines? I mean, is there something in the contractseniority?
Ms. HALPERIN. There isn't a contract in place.
Mr. DEFAZIO. There is no contract?
Ms. HALPERIN. Contract negotiations are going
Mr. DEFAZIO. So it will be totally discretionary on the part of management who is recalled?
Ms. HALPERIN. I don'tI haven't seen the guidelines for the recall. I just know that there is not a contract in place, that negotiations were underway.
Mr. DEFAZIO. There is no contract, so then one would assume that the call-backs will be discretionary by any standard established by management. Would you think that someone might sign this letter or be reluctant not to sign this letter because of concerns about recall?
Page 81 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. HALPERIN. I can tell you, from the responses that I got from the people that I spoke with about this letter, that was not an issue. That wasn't raised to me at all. It was very focused on exactly what the content of the letter was.
I'm not a member of management that would have been able to forecast anything about recall.
Mr. DEFAZIO. But, as in Ms. Danner's questions, people were not aware that the letter was going to be immediately shared with management for publication?
Ms. HALPERIN. They were aware that it could appear in the press.
Mr. DEFAZIO. Okay. I wasn't clear, from Ms. Danner's questions, that they were signing off on being in a public letter. So then they were aware that management would have the opportunity to review the signatures of who signed and who didn't?
Ms. HALPERIN. As would anybody in the public.
Mr. DEFAZIO. Yes. Okay.
Ms. Clayton, on that line of questioning, do you have anything you want to add?
Ms. CLAYTON. Yes, I do. In fact, in Washington the Washington-based in-flight supervisor is the one who called the flight attendants to get their signatures for this letter.
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Mr. DEFAZIO. So do you think thatI mean, were you contacted by anyone who signed the letter who signed the letter out of concern?
Ms. CLAYTON. Yes, I did. I had several flight attendants call who said that they were sorry but they had to sign the letter because they knew if their name did not appear on this letter they would not be recalled.
Mr. DEFAZIO. Have you had anyone discuss your status in a recall
Ms. CLAYTON. No.
Mr. DEFAZIO. at the company? Do you have any indication that these are the views of not only some of the people who signed this letter, or all the people who signed this letter, but perhaps of management, that management is unhappy with you?
Ms. CLAYTON. Well, they've signed this letter. Management has signed this letter.
Mr. DEFAZIO. Twenty-four supervisors.
Ms. CLAYTON. Yes.
Mr. DEFAZIO. So do you feel that you are in jeopardy of not being recalled should the airline
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Ms. CLAYTON. Sure. I probably will not be recalled. In fact, I have heard through a friend that a supervisor told her that I would not be recalled.
Mr. DEFAZIO. Now, if you're not recalled and you're president of the union, what happens? How does that work?
Ms. CLAYTON. I don't know. We'll have to ask the legal department.
Mr. DEFAZIO. Okay. So there is no contract in place, so there are no procedures that you are aware of either for recall?
Ms. CLAYTON. According to Lewis Jordan's ''Lewis Line,'' they will be recalling in some sort of seniority order, but you will have to re-interview for the job and they will take your personnel file into consideration before you are recalled.
Mr. DEFAZIO. So some sort of seniority, but you've got to re-apply for your job?
Ms. CLAYTON. Right.
Mr. DEFAZIO. Okay. And soand you did have calls from people who felt that if they didn't sign this letter they would be jeopardized in that sort of a process?
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Ms. CLAYTON. Sure. I mean, if your in-flight supervisor called you and asked you to sign a letter of support for the company, wouldn't you? I mean, wouldn't you feel your job was in jeopardy?
Mr. DEFAZIO. I would. I would. But there seem to be some people who doubt that.
Ms. CLAYTON. I've been calling people on this list, and I've been having discussions with them. I've come across one or two who do support the letter, but the majority of the ones I've talked to have said they weren't told exactly what was going to be in the letter, they didn't have the entire letter read to them, and they were mislead.
I'm not here to win a popularity contest. I am here to make sure that we have some sort of protection in place for flight attendants to call and report safety violations.
Mr. DEFAZIO. That's a good place for me to end. I appreciate you bringing us back to the topic at hand.
I feel it's very unfortunate that ValuJet and/or Ms. Halperin and other authors chose to publish this letter this week before this hearing and not mention the bill, which, of course, ValuJet wholeheartedly supports now. I'm not certain they would have 2 months ago.
With that, I would end my statement.
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Mr. LAHOOD. Mr. Chairman?
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. LaHood?
Mr. LAHOOD. May I ask aI just want to follow Mr. DeFazio's line of questioning.
Mr. DUNCAN. Sure.
Mr. LAHOOD. Ms. Halperin, did you call any employees and ask them to sign this letter?
Ms. HALPERIN. I did.
Mr. LAHOOD. Tell me what you said to them when you called them. Can you tell us precisely what you said to them?
Ms. HALPERIN. Sure. I'd be glad to. Yes. I introduced myself. In quite a few cases it was people that I didn't really know. I said, ''I'm a flight attendant with ValuJet,'' and I said, ''Some of us had gotten together and prepared a letter. It wouldwe were notwe did not agree with the things that were being said in the press by the person who said she was representing us.''
I said, ''Would youmay I read the statement to you and see if this is something that you would like to have your name attached to and that it would be for distribution to the Members of Congress and possibly released in the press.''
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Then I would read the statement, and the person would say yes or no they would like tothat they agreed with that, and yes, they give permission for their name to be attached to it.
Mr. LAHOOD. Did anyone say to you, ''Well, I don't know if I really agree with it, but I'm fearful that I won't be recalled if I don't sign it?''
Ms. HALPERIN. Absolutely not.
Mr. LAHOOD. The statement that you read is exactly what appeared in the ad and what appeared in this letter here?
Ms. HALPERIN. That is the exact statement.
Mr. LAHOOD. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Mr. Chairman?
Mr. GEREN. Mr. Chairman?
Mr. DUNCAN. Yes?
Page 87 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LIPINSKI. I have a question, if I could get in here.
Mr. DUNCAN. Either one.
Mr. GEREN. I defer to the ranking member, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. LIPINSKI. No. Mr. Geren hasn't spoken. Mr. Geren, you go right ahead.
Mr. GEREN. Go ahead. I respect your position, and I would gladly defer to you, Mr. Ranking member.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Thank you very much, Mr. Geren. I appreciate that.
Did you keep a record of who you called?
Ms. HALPERIN. Did I personally keep a record?
Mr. LIPINSKI. Yes.
Ms. HALPERIN. I don't have a record of that. I just checked off whose namethe particular people that I contacted that said yes, I could.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Well, what kind of list did you have? Did you have a list of so many flight attendants?
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Ms. HALPERIN. Yes. I had amaybe a page of flight attendants that I had their phone numbers and I contacted them.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Okay. And you called them, and those people that said yes, you checked their name off?
Ms. HALPERIN. Yes. If they weren't there, I could leave a message on their recorder with a number that they could call back. It was another member of this group of us that were
Mr. LIPINSKI. What kind of notation did you make when you just left a message on a recorder?
Ms. HALPERIN. ''LM'' for left message.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Okay. Very good. Now, did you writeon this list that you had, if someone turned you down did you write ''no.''
Ms. HALPERIN. Just ''N'' for no so their name wouldn't be used.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Who did you give the list to?
Ms. HALPERIN. I gave it to another ValuJet flight attendant who was kind of heading this up.
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Mr. LIPINSKI. And who was that?
Ms. HALPERIN. Her name was Julie Morrison.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Julie Morrison?
Ms. HALPERIN. Yes, sir. She's another ValuJet flight attendant.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Okay. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you.
Mr. GEREN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I just want to ask a quick question of Ms. Clayton. I missed the exchange with Mr. Coble earlier, but you said that you concluded that ValuJet is not a safe airline, or was not a safe airline. That's quite an extraordinary thing to say about an airline. It goes right to the heart of its existence.
What do you base that conclusion on? What are some of the factors that would lead you to tell the public that this airline that had been transporting hundreds of thousands of folks is not safe?
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Ms. CLAYTON. Well, we've hadI've had several flight attendants who sent me resignation letters with safety concerns that they quit over.
Mr. GEREN. For example, I mean, specifically what sort of safety concerns have led you to make the public statement that this airline is not safe?
Ms. CLAYTON. It's been over the last couple of years that I flew. I mean, I flew on a plane one time, I was sitting in the back, and it was making this extremely loud noise that was hurting my ears, and I kept going to the cockpit saying, ''Something is wrong back there, but I don't know what it is.'' They kept telling me nothing was wrong.
Well, when we landed in Atlanta and the next crew got on, a mechanic found a paintbrush that was stuck in one of the doors, and that is what was causing the loud whistling noise.
I had a flight attendant friend who quit because she said she knew it was time to quit when she looked out the door when they were 20-something thousand feet in the air and she could see the blue sky because the door seals weren't intact.
When you hear mechanicsmechanics come up to you and say, ''I really don't think this plane should go, and yet my supervisor penciled over any recommendation.''
I've heard mechanics talk on the crew vans. They said that there was a plane in Washington that flew to Tampa, and it shouldn't have flown there because it had foreign object damage.
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Our safety recordwe've lost three aircraft in the last year. We've had several numbers of instances where the airplanes ran off the runway or just had something happen, having to go back, having to do your demonstrations with a megaphone. There is just a long, long list of things that I saw.
Mr. GEREN. Have you personally approached the management prior to the
Ms. CLAYTON. Yes, we did.
Mr. GEREN. You, personally?
Ms. CLAYTON. Yes, I did. Lewis Jordan.
Mr. GEREN. And what was the reaction to your bringing these concerns to his attention?
Ms. CLAYTON. Well, I just felt like the attitude that I got from them was, ''We'll look into it, but you're not really a mechanic or a pilot.'' I've never claimed to be. ''We'll get back to you.''
Mr. GEREN. You went to him personally one time?
Ms. CLAYTON. Yes.
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Mr. GEREN. Okay. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I have no other questions.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Geren.
Ms. Halperin, let me ask you this: based on your conversations with other ValuJet employeesflight attendants, mechanics, pilots, all of themwhat percentageand I realize that any company of any type in the world has some unhappy employees, but what percentage of the ValuJet employees that you talked with felt that ValuJet was an unsafe airline, in your best estimation?
Ms. HALPERIN. I wouldn't even want to put a number on that because I don't think that anybody that I talked with felt like this was an unsafe airline.
Mr. DUNCAN. You don't think you ever talked to any ValuJet employee whoso, in other words, would you say it was a fair statement to say that almost all ValuJet employees felt that it was a safe airline?
Ms. HALPERIN. In my realm of expertise on that subject, I would say yes.
Mr. DUNCAN. Ms. Clayton, what percentage of the employees that you talked with felt that the airline was unsafe?
Page 93 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. CLAYTON. From just talking with the flight attendants, about 60 percent. Even people on this list that I called yesterday said they felt the airline was unsafe.
Mr. DUNCAN. Rough guess, approximately how many times did you fly with ValuJet, either as an employee or as a passenger?
Ms. CLAYTON. In 1994 I flew about 120 hours a month from April until December. That was just an average.
Mr. DUNCAN. So roughly how many flights would that be?
Ms. CLAYTON. I don't know. It'sI don'tit's too hard to tell.
Mr. DUNCAN. Roughly. You flew roughly
Ms. CLAYTON. You're flying almost every day, with maybe 4 or 5 days off.
Mr. DUNCAN. So if an average flight was an hour, then you're talking about 120 flights?
Ms. CLAYTON. I don't know.
Page 94 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DUNCAN. It's not that important.
Thank you very much. We're going to move on to the next panel. We certainly appreciate your testimony and your willingness to be here with us today.
All right. The next panel consists of: Mr. Robert P. Warren, who is the senior vice president and general counsel of the Air Transport Association; and Ms. Joan Auch, who is the vice president for InFlight Services of ValuJet.
We're pleased to have both of you appear with us today. Since we proceeded in the order in which they were listed on the witness list with the first panel, that's what we'll do with the second panel also, and that means, Mr. Warren, you will go first. We'll let you begin your testimony at this time.
TESTIMONY OF ROBERT P. WARREN, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT AND GENERAL COUNSEL, AIR TRANSPORT ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA; AND JOAN AUCH, VICE PRESIDENT, INFLIGHT SERVICES, VALUJET AIRLINES, INC.
Mr. WARREN. I thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate very much the opportunity to be able to appear before this committee today to testify on this proposed legislation.
My name, again, is Robert Warren. I am the senior vice president and general counsel of the Air Transport Association of America.
Page 95 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC ATA appreciates the opportunity to discuss H.R. 3187, the proposed Aviation Security Protection Act of 1996.
ATA is the trade and service organization of U.S. scheduled airline industry.
Although we believe that all who are involved in aviationemployees, management, and Governmentshould consistently seek to improve aviation safety, the bill currently before you is both unnecessary, because of existing legal protections, and could have unintended contrary consequences.
Airline employees are the indispensable ingredient in the extraordinary safety record that the U.S. airline industry has achieved. Without their commitment, that achievement would never occur.
The over 22,000 flights that U.S. airlines operate daily could not be performed without the team effort of the safety professionals of the airline industry.
Part of that achievement is attributable to the ability of employees who have safety responsibilities to communicate with their supervisors. An airline is dependent upon such two-way lines of communication.
If an airline employee detects what he or she believes to be an unsafe condition, the airline wants to know about that immediately.
Page 96 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Despite our members' commitment to fostering safety-related communication within their respective organizations, we do not believe that an additional legal structure should be erected to handle whistleblower claims.
Four considerations lead us to this conclusion:
First, airlines can only operate if they have approval of two different Federal entities: the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Transportation. Congress has charged each of these entities with performing their regulatory duties in the public interest, including, most importantly, the promotion of aviation safety.
The FAA must conclude that an air carrier can safely perform its obligations under the Federal aviation law and the Federal aviation regulations before the agency issues it an operating certificate.
Moreover, the FAA can take action against an air carrier's certificate, including revocation, if the administrator concludes that safety in airline transportation and the public interest require that action.
This, however, is only one-half of the Federal oversight of air carrier safety.
An air carrier must hold a DOT-issued certificate of public convenience and necessity. The Secretary of Transportation can only issue such a certificate if the Secretary conclude that the carrier is fit, willing, and able to provide the air transportation.
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Moreover, Federal aviation law imposes upon a certificate holder a continuous fitness requirement.
This dual regulatory structure results in a continuous Federal safety oversight of airlines. Civil penalty and certificate actions enforce compliance with safety goals of this regulatory structure.
The breadth of Federal regulatory authority means that if an air carrier developed a practice of retaliating against or demonstrating a pattern of retaliating against employees who identified bona fide safety problems, that carrier could be subject to enforcement or certificate action.
We assume that the representatives of grieved employees would, as well, urge the FAA and DOT to take such action.
Second, airline pilots and mechanics hold FAA-issued certificates. They cannot work without them. These certificate holders have clear responsibilities to follow the requirements of the Federal aviation regulations and are subject to FAA enforcement and certificate actions if they do not do so. They, therefore, have a compelling professional, as well as personal, interest in pursuing safety issues.
Third, the airline industry is highly unionized. ATA member employees who would spot safety violations, be they pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, and dispatchers, are already overwhelmingly unionized and, therefore, are protected by mandatory grievance and arbitration procedures.
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For example, the Railway Labor Act, which is a Federal labor law for our industry, provides a method to adjudicate disputes in which adverse employee actions are alleged, including allegations of retaliatory actions against airline employees who are covered by collective bargaining agreements.
Fourth, in a circumstance where an employee is unrepresented and is not working pursuant to a written contract, many States allow employees to bring wrongful employment termination suits. This is particularly the case where an employee claims that his or her employer's adverse action violated public policy.
Furthermore, other applicable State common-law actions, such as defamation and intentional inflict of emotional distress, may be available to such an employee.
The Railway Labor Act does not preempt the right of an employee to pursue the State law based suits.
As this review indicates, there is already in place a multi-faceted legal and regulatory structure that both protects employees and acts as a strong deterrent to uncalled-for adverse employee decisions. We see no reason to add yet another layer to this structure.
In view of these considerations, we respectfully urge that H.R. 3187 not be enacted into law.
Page 99 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much.
Ms. AUCH. Chairman Duncan, members of the subcommittee, my name is Joan Auch, and I am the vice president of InFlight Services for ValuJet. I thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to appear here today. My written testimony describes my background and my current position and responsibilities.
As you know, ValuJet is concentrating all of its present efforts to getting into service as safely and as soon as possible. Over 4,000 ValuJet employees remain out of work, and they deserve a fair opportunity to get their jobs back.
While I'm glad that this legislation is being given serious consideration, it saddens me that some have tried to link ValuJet, the accident, and the legislation. I greatly appreciate that many of you have clarified that this legislation is not aimed at ValuJet, and, as Congressman Clyburn indicated, preliminary NTSB statements and the facts uncovered in our investigation give no indication that ValuJet air crew, equipment failure, or maintenance factors played any role in the accident. Indeed, the crew of flight 592 acted heroically.
At ValuJet we support any effort, including the whistleblower legislation, that will encourage airline employees to identify and speak out about safety concerns. Since ValuJet's first flight, our dedication to safety has included a commitment to providing our people with every possible avenue for communicating their safety concerns. We are pleased that the introduction of the Aviation Safety Protection Act has promoted this subcommittee to focus on the important role that airline employees play in ensuring the overall safety of our airlines.
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Every ValuJet employee has a responsibility for the overall safety. I can speak for ValuJet flight attendants who check cabin safety equipment, monitor safety and comfort of customers, and act as the pilot's eyes and ears in the cabin. They are safety professionals, and they take their duties very seriously.
My flight attendants are an energetic, outgoing, dynamic group of professionals, as anyone who has flown on ValuJet will quickly tell you, and they are specifically recruited and hired for those qualities.
The suggestion that they would be silent about reporting safety concerns is completely contrary to my experience with them. They are proud of their safety role and take all of their duties seriously.
We encourage and expect them to identify and report safety concerns, and we take their questions very seriously.
We provide several specific methods through which employees may voice their safety concerns: an incident report form to notify us of irregularities, personal injuries, or equipment damage. Flight attendants have daily access to their duty supervisors and the contact numbers for their personal group supervisors. We have an anonymous, toll-free safety hotline. We have an e-mail system that is answered by our management group. We have an employee concern report form for general information issues. And we also ensure that the ValuJet employees know about the FAA safety hotline.
Page 101 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In addition to the issues that I have identified, ValuJet maintains a company-wide open door policy. This is one of the most important elements of our safety program for identifying safety concerns. I speak frequently with flight attendants who call, drop by my office, or who I see on my flights.
As this subcommittee knows, ValuJet has in place a distinguished safety czar, General J.B. Davis, who is reviewing our safety practices and procedures as part of his exhaustive examination of our company's past practices.
In addition, we are pleased and excited to announce that Jim Jenson, formerly the senior vice president of maintenance and engineering at TWA, and most recently the vice president of product support at Douglas Aircraft, has joined our company as senior vice president of maintenance and engineering.
This addition of one of the most outstanding maintenance professionals in the airline industry is truly exciting for our company. He will also be reviewing our safety procedures as part of his responsibility.
Unfortunately, AFA has chosen to target ValuJet in this hearing. I believe, in fact, we are the only carrier mentioned by name. Susan's testimony as the ValuJet union official challenges ValuJet's commitment to safety; yet, the issues that she has selected to discuss do not go into substantial or significant detail to provide a clear indication of what happened in those situations.
I am familiar with most issues and would be happy to address any of them if you have questions.
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In specific reference to Richard Bunch, he is involved in a pending lawsuit against ValuJet in which he claims he was dismissed for his union activities. He now claims he was released for reporting a safety incident. In truth, he was dismissed not because of safety issues or because of union activities. He was dismissed near the end of his probationary period because of his cumulative record.
The fact is that ValuJet has investigated and taken seriously every complaint brought to its attention and will continue to use that practice as we return to service.
In summary, we greatly support the worthy goals of the Aviation Safety Protection Act, which would ensure that employees of all airlines, contractors and subcontractors, are treated fairly when they raise concerns. We never have and we never would in any way punish an employee for raising a safety concern with us or with the Government.
ValuJet is happy to work with the subcommittee on these issues in the future, and we look forward to working with the members as we proceed with our plan to return to service.
Again, thank you for inviting me to testify today. As you know, ValuJet President Lewis Jordan has submitted a statement for the record. I ask that it be included in the record following my own written statement.
I would be happy to answer any questions.
Page 103 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much. All of the witnesses will be allowed to submit any supplemental material for the record that they wish.
Mr. COBLE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
It's good to have you folks with us, as well as the first panel.
Mr. Warren, I missed part of your testimony because I'm playing leap frog in different committees here that are being conducted simultaneously. I did get here in time to hear you indicate that you do not come down on the side of being a supporter of this proposed legislation.
You indicated, furthermore, I think, that there is relief for the moment, but there is no relief, is there, Mr. Warren, specifically as to whistleblowers, as regarding Federal employees?
Mr. WARREN. I think you want to look at what interest you're trying to protect here. If you want to categorize someone as trying to bring forward information regarding airline safety, and thereforeand as a result of that activity being wrongfully discharged or having other discriminatory action taken against that individual, within the context of that particular situation about which I think this legislation is attempting to address, there are a number of otherbe they union, be they national, be they in the Railway Labor Actthat can address a situation of that particular employee in those circumstances.
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Mr. COBLE. Well, I
Mr. WARREN. They, in fact, protectif you want to characterize someone as a whistleblower, they, in fact, can protect that aggrieved party, and the substance of my testimony was, in effect, we don't need an additional overlay of regulations.
Mr. COBLE. I'm not one, Mr. Warren, as the chairman knows, who advocates Governmental intrusion. I don't like the idea of the tentacles of Federal Government being extended here, there, and yonder. But let me think aloud for a minute.
Let's assume, for the moment, that there are employee complaints from airlines regarding safety problems. That would reasonably conclude that there would be little need for this legislation, one might assume.
But, to take that a step further, it seems to me that it also might indicate that legislating in this area, given in mind a guy who is not in favor of Governmental intrusion is speaking now, but, given that, I don't know that this would bestrike that. If it will be disruption at all to the smooth operation of the airlines, it seems to me, Mr. Chairman, it would be only minimal disruption, and, conversely, provides some benefit to people who are presumably trying to make things better.
Now, am I off the wall, Mr. Warren or Ms. Auch, either one of you?
Mr. WARREN. I would not like to suggest, sir, that you are off the wall.
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Mr. WARREN. I would indicate, however, that there areand I'm glad you share the concern about additional Government regulation, but I think there are a number of means by which employees can report, either through the FAA safety hotline, concerns that they, in fact, have.
And as far as whether or not, on its face, this would increase a burden, that is unclear, because I think if you take a look at the legislation you will see that it may well require that sets of procedures are put into place because every complaint is going to have to be determined as to whether or not it's cast, as to whether or not it's a safety matter. That is going to require, I believe
Mr. COBLE. I think we can resolve that.
My time is about to go out. Ms. Auch, do you want to be heard for about 30 seconds, because the clock is running?
Ms. AUCH. I think that anything that makes an individual feel more comfortable in utilizing the mechanisms that are already there is beneficial, and that's why we're here to support.
Mr. COBLE. I thank each of you. I thank the chairman.
Page 106 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DUNCAN. I apologize, but we're going to have to break and go vote at this time. We'll start back just as quickly as we possibly can. We'll break now for our vote.
Mr. DUNCAN. I apologize, but we've had a series of votes, and we've still got other votes coming on, so we're going to try and bring this to a conclusion.
I've asked Mr. Clyburn and Mr. Bachus to come back, and we apologize for the delay, but we'll proceed now with the hearing.
Mr. Bachus, we'll go to you first.
Mr. BACHUS. Thank you.
Mr. Warren, I've been told that the mining industry and the trucking industry and farm workers and nuclear power plant workers all have a whistleblowing statute similar to the one proposed by Mr. Clyburn. Is thathave you all looked into that? I would maybe say why not the airline industry, since they are all inherent dangers?
Mr. WARREN. Congressman, I'm, quite frankly, unfamiliar with all whistleblowing statutes in other areas. I'm more familiar as it plays out within the context of the Federal Government.
Page 107 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But I think that what our concern is, that as you take a look at what the legislation provides, there are other means that adequately address the concerns of grieved parties or whistleblowers, however you want to characterize those individuals, who have come forward in the manner in which they've come forward, other than adding additional regulations on the industry, itself.
Having those other alternate means of having some kind of adjudication on the issue, it's believed by the industry to be unnecessary.
I mean, you heard, I think, this afternoon that there is a sense that somehow there is a discouragement of coming forward, but there isas the chairman noted, there are 25 calls a day, or in that area, to the FAA. You don't see wholesale retaliation by the industry against anyone.
Even the head of the union, Ms. Friend, indicated that she could cite no example of that being the case.
Mr. BACHUS. And I did notice that she did say that.
Mr. WARREN. That being the case, you really have to ask yourself the question as to whether or not this legislation really addresses a current, ongoing serious problem.
Mr. BACHUS. All right. Thank you. You've reviewed this legislation?
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Mr. WARREN. Yes.
Mr. BACHUS. Can you give me some specific examples of how it would burden the airlines?
Mr. WARREN. Well, I think if you take a look atyou have legislation and you have what is going to be the natural outgrowth of what happens.
Mr. BACHUS. The rules and regs.
Mr. WARREN. Right. Exactly, as a result of that. And I think you need to ask yourself when you start having implementation of these regulations.
Any complaintif you are a general counsel sitting in an airline, for example, you're going to have to ask yourself, any complaint that's lodged, you have to make a determination, a threshold determination, whether or not it has to do with safety, and then you're going to have to go through a set of procedures, because at the end of the line you are likely to get involved in litigation, or the potential of litigation, if, in fact, you have someone who's making a frivolous complaint and hiding behind that frivolous complaint in order to hide some personnel problems, which, unfortunately, sometimes is a consequence.
You are going to have to go through procedures in havinghow that's going to be done, whether or not the complaint is going to be done in writing, have it determined. If it then goes to the Secretary of Labor, the Secretary of Labor or his ALJ is going to have to decide on whether or not it's an air safety complaint or not an air safety complaint. And what is the Secretary of Labor doing deciding about a problem dealing with air safety and whether or not it is air safety or not?
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It just seems to be that there are current procedures in place which adequately address.
If you take a look at the time periods prescribed in this statute, the same kind of redress can be given under alternative provisions.
Mr. BACHUS. And I can certainly understand that if the Department of Labor and other agencies are involved, that you do add another layer of bureaucracy.
Mr. WARREN. That's correct, sir.
Mr. BACHUS. Let me ask you this: are there general policies in place at the airlines that relate to an employee's right to take grievances before the FAA or to report safety violations specifically?
Mr. WARREN. I think, again, your first panel, if I can use some of the information that they provided to you, they certainly indicate that there wasand they acknowledged this facta policy of encouraging safety concerns being made.
I think some of the concern was whether or not that found itself into different layers of supervision, but certainly across the board they indicated that there was a policy of encouraging safety concerns among the airlines, and we believe at ATA that that is the case among our membership.
Page 110 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BACHUS. In fact, in the hearings we've had before, there has been testimony that employees, in fact, did complain and that the FAA was aware of those complaints, but that they failed to act.
Mr. WARREN. Yes.
Mr. BACHUS. So that, to me, is a serious problem that we've got to look at. What is not working out there?
Let me shift gears and make this conclusion, because we are in this hearing and ValuJet has filed on July 3rd a plan to get back in the air.
I will say that my shorthand take on that plan is that they are proposing to do many of the things that this committee and the FAA has asked them to do. They have said that they will provide a higher pay. It's not that we want people paid more, but they are going to have a well-trainedthey're going to increase pay to attract people, especially in maintenance and positions.
They are not going to farm out the work. They are going to closely supervise contracted operations. And they're going to bring a lot of the maintenance operations back in-house.
They're going to scale down. They're going to operate 15 airplanes. I think they've given up three hubs, possibly fourfour destinations.
Page 111 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But I think they have done what this committee has asked them to do, and I would say that time is running out, and I would hope the FAA is handling this on an expedited basis and that they'll give these 4,000 employees an answer.
Either the plan is a safe proposal they can operate in a safe manner, or they can't, and that's a call I think the FAA ought to be making. They ought to do it quickly. I think they owe it to ValuJet, and I think that's a different issue than the issue of this crash in the Everglades.
I will say that, and I'm sure, as are the employees of ValuJet and the traveling public, they're waiting on an answer. And I hope the FAA will address this a lot quicker and with more workmanship than they've addressed a lot of the complaints that have come before our committee.
I will close with that. I guess I'll address that to you, Ms. Auch.
Ms. AUCH. Thank you. I appreciate that. I actually was a member of the meeting on July 3rd where that was proposed, and we are seeing a great deal of diligence on the part of the FAA and a great deal of spirit to work with us and make sure that we do get back and we do get back very safely.
Mr. BACHUS. I would say that 90 percent of my concerns will be addressed when the maintenance and engineering supervision will shift from contracted workers to ValuJet's own full-time people. You're going to have closer monitoring, although I have no problem with contracting out work. I think sometimes it works very well and it serves well, but I think this is a good proposal. I think it could meet and exceed the FAA's requirement.
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As you, I'm waiting on an answer.
Mr. DUNCAN. All right. Thank you very much, Mr. Bachus.
Mr. CLYBURN. Mr. Chairman, I have just some quick questions.
I want to say, first to Ms. Auch, that I notice in your prepared statement on page two there is a statement attributed to me. Let me reiterate for you what I said.
I said that if an employee of the contractor, or whomever was responsible for those canisters that were delivered to ValuJet, had seen a violation, this legislation would have protected that person.
So, once again, your statement seemed to be saying that if I saw a ValuJet employee. That's not what I said. I said an employee of the people who delivered the canisters.
Ms. AUCH. Right. And I understand that, and I appreciate the clarification.
Mr. CLYBURN. I understand the statement is going to be submitted to the record, so I just wanted to be clear.
Page 113 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. AUCH. Okay. And we can clarify that for the record, because
Mr. CLYBURN. Please do.
Ms. AUCH. if you notice, my oral was clarifying
Mr. CLYBURN. Yes. I noticed that you excluded that from the oral, but this also is going to be in the record.
Ms. AUCH. Okay. I will do that.
Mr. CLYBURN. Thank you so much.
Mr. Warren, I want to say to you about unintended consequences, I have a real problem with people who oppose legislation because there may be unintended consequences. There may be unintended consequence to anything in life, and for us to say that this legislation should not be approved because of unintended consequences, I think that's very, very unfair, especially when you don't lay out for us what some of those unintended consequences could very well be.
You keep talking about a pattern of retaliation. Let me tell you something: you don't need a pattern of retaliation. If you retaliate against one person, that's 100 percent for that person. And so for us to wait on a pattern to develop, which the laws that you propose here would require that some pattern is detected before they can kick in, this legislation will protect every single person that may feel he or she may be retaliated against.
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So I wanted to say that to you. Even you talked about retaliation. You used the term ''wholesale retaliation.'' Is that a bushel? How many retaliations must take place for there to be wholesale retaliation.
This legislation is proposed so that every individual in the industry can feel he or she would be protected, and I think it would be a little bit disingenuous for us to wait on wholesale retaliations to take place before we have legislation that would kick in to protect people.
So, aside from those things, I don't have any problem with your presentation, but I would ask you, in closing, to tell me how would we have provided for protection of employees of this contractor or subcontractor, whoever it was that sent those canisters, or whatever they were, to ValuJet?
Let's just suppose that somebody working for that person knew those things were mislabeled but didn't say anything out of fear of losing his or her job a long time before they ever got down the road to ValuJet. Wouldn't this legislation be protective of that person way back there?
Mr. WARREN. I respect very much your views, Congressman, on the issue. I didn't meanif I could just digress for one second, I didn't mean to suggest there needed to be wholesale retaliation in order to address the problem. What I want to suggest, sir, is that there is, by the testimony of your first panel, no suggestion of any reported retaliations that they are able to cite to this committee.
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As to the issue of whether or not somebody might have done something if they only knew but if they were fearful of reporting something, it's a very conjectural, hypothetical question, but there are certificated repair stations and others who also depend upon certificates from the FAA, and there are other remedies that are available to various employees.
I want to be clear that ATA and the airline industry is concerned. Its paramount concern is safety. We don't want to see anything that would in any way impact on that. So we are just concerned with the additional burdens that this might place on us.
Mr. DUNCAN. I apologize, but I'm going to have to interrupt here. We've got a five-minute vote, but rather than delay the witnesses further I'm going to go ahead and bring this hearing to a conclusion. We'll allow any Members who wish to do so to submit additional questions for the record in writing.
Thank you very much for being here and for the testimony you've given.
[Whereupon, at 3:50 p.m., the subcommittee was adjourned, to reconvene at the call of the Chair.]