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Unions to picket White House over Cork to US flights

May 10th, 2016 7:20 AM

By Siobhan Cronin

A poster for the White House protest.

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A MAJOR picket by American unions will take place outside the White House in Washington next week, to oppose the plans to grant Norwegian Air International (NAI) a permit to fly from Cork to the US.

The protest, by transport unions across the US, will take place at noon on May 12th. Union leaders are furious at the US Department of Transport’s indication that it would grant a permit to the Scandinavian airline to fly into the US from Ireland.

Meanwhile, Cork Airport is encouraging the public to get behind its campaign to support NAI’s plans to fly from Cork to Boston and New York this year, to counter the massive negative social media and publicity campaign in the US.

The airport’s communications chief, Kevin Cullinane, has asked Kinsale Chamber to encourage members and friends in Ireland or the USA to lobby the US Dept of Transportation to ensure the airline gets its permit to fly.

Norwegian has said it would like to start the flights from August, but that plan is now in jeopardy, with the US government granting a further ten days to the period for the public to make comments of support or objection to the licence.

In recent weeks a major lobby has formed in the US, opposing the plan to allow the Scandinavian airline to fly from Ireland to the US.

The campaign was largely initiated by strong pilots’ unions in the US, who fear that licensing the low-frills airline will result in a drop in fares, and therefore salaries, in the American airline industry.

But now several major American umbrella bodies for transport unions have come on board, under the hashtag #denyNAI with comments ranging from ‘a race to the bottom’ to ‘this airline is Norwegian in name only’ and referencing what they claim is ‘NAI’s scheme to undermine competition and labour standards’.

The US Dept of Transport’s own website, which invites comments directly, has attracted over 5,000 comments since the permit was temporarily granted over two weeks ago. 

The vast majority of the comments are in opposition to the flights.

An article from the US Machinists Union, promoting the May 12th protest, states that ‘the carrier [Norwegian] is registered in Ireland to avoid Norwegian safety and security regulations’.

‘It will not take long for other airlines ... to copy NAI’s disastrous business model in an effort to compete in a hyper-competitive, cutthroat global aviation market. Airline workers will most certainly be the casualties of this wrong-headed, anti-labor DOT policy,’ it adds.

Four US senators recently drafted legislation to force the US government to use its labour laws to protect its citizens’ jobs from outside interests, as a direct result of Norwegian’s plans.

Another US lobby group, representing 32 member unions, has described Norwegian as a ‘low-road air carrier whose operating plan will destroy fair competition and extinguish middle-class airline jobs here and in Europe.’

There is a very real fear in Cork now that the county’s first scheduled transatlantic flights will not get off the ground. ‘We need backbone now on this issue,’ said Enniskeane businessman John Hosford this week. 

‘The latest intervention by four US Congressmen is not welcome, especially considering the application is now in for some two years. This route is very important. The opportunity to open transatlantic services from Cork Airport must not be missed,’ he added.

County Mayor Cllr John Paul O’ Shea also expressed his disappointment with the situation, saying he ‘wholeheartedly rejects’ the proposed US Bill which is to be put forward by four US Representatives to block the flights.

 ‘The details included in this proposed bill and reference to our labour laws are quite simply inaccurate and insulting to the people of Cork and Ireland,’ he said.

Anyone who wants to make a comment in support of the Norwegian flights can find the link at the Facebook page Fly Cork Ireland Airport to Boston Usa via Norwegian Air.

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