Chair DeFazio Applauds Inclusion of T&I Provisions to Expand Protections for Frontline Workers and Families in Fourth Coronavirus Relief Package
Washington, DC – Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the “The Heroes Act,” comprehensive legislation to provide relief to workers and families during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. This legislation, led by House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, is the fourth in a series of relief packages related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and includes multiple provisions offered by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, including:
Provisions to strengthen working and travel conditions for those in the transportation sector, including requirements on masks/face coverings for workers and passengers on commercial U.S. flights, Amtrak trains, and certain public transit.
A provision to adjust the cost share for assistance provided under any Stafford Act declaration for the COVID-19 pandemic to 100 percent Federal.
Provisions to provide financial assistance to low-income and other adversely affected consumers to assist with payments for drinking water and wastewater expenses.
“The Heroes Act” also includes $75 million for FAA operations, including a study on mitigating pathogens in airplane cabin air; $15.75 billion for public transit agencies; and $15 billion to help State and local transportation agencies. Both public transit agencies and State departments of transportation are experiencing devastating drops in revenue amid the pandemic.
“As this unprecedented health and economic crisis continues to wreak havoc on workers, families, and communities across our country, Congress must continue to step up with big, bold measures to blunt the worst of its effects. As Chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I’m especially focused on making sure the Federal government helps protect frontline transportation workers and those who still must travel with clear and consistent policies on personal protective equipment that will help stop the spread of this insidious virus,” Chair DeFazio said
Among the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee-related provisions in The Heroes Act:
Protections for Aviation workforce: Mandates that airlines, during the COVID-19 pandemic, provide airline employees with personal protective equipment and require flight crew and passengers to wear face coverings while aboard the aircraft. Additionally, ensures aircraft and enclosed facilities are cleaned, disinfected, and sanitized frequently in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.
CHAIR DEFAZIO URGES FAA ADMINISTRATOR TO REQUIRE FACE MASKS FOR PASSENGERS AND CREW ON ALL U.S. FLIGHTS AND TO ENSURE SAFE SPACING BETWEEN PASSENGERS
The HEROES Act seems to accomplish what the Chair has been urging the FAA to do and what the FAA asserted it was beyond any existing statutory authority:
Sec. 190505. Working and travel conditions. Mandates that airlines, during the COVID-19 pandemic: (1) require flight attendants and passengers on airplanes to wear masks or other face coverings; (2) require pilots to wear a mask or face covering while outside the flight deck and submit to the Federal Aviation Administration a proposal and safety risk assessment to allow pilots to wear such materials while in the flight deck; (3) provide pilots, flight attendants, and customer-facing employees with masks or protective face coverings, gloves, hand sanitizer, and alcohol wipes; (4) ensure aircraft and enclosed facilities are cleaned, disinfected, and sanitized frequently in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance; (5) ensure cleaning workers are provided masks or protective face coverings and gloves; and (6) establish guidelines for notifying employees of a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis.
This new language imposes on the airlines requirement to provide the masks to their passenger-facing employees and to their passengers. What is not clear is what authority the Congress expects the airlines to use to compel the passengers, after delivering the masks, to wear them—all through the flight? Whether the flight attendants are expected to add face mask enforcement to their already heavy safety duties?
(prior to the Heroes Act)
Flight attendants at American Airlines, Delta Airlines, and United Airlines have been advised to encourage passengers to wear masks on board, Reuters reported. But they have also been advised not to push the issue if a passenger refuses…
“Once on board and off the gate, the face covering policy becomes more lenient. The flight attendant’s role is informational, not enforcement, with respect to the face covering policy,” American Airlines said in a message to pilots obtained by Reuters.
“Bottom line to the pilots: a passenger on board your aircraft who is being compliant with the exception of wearing a face covering is NOT considered disruptive enough to trigger a Threat Level 1 response,” the message continued, referencing a mid-flight disruption scenario that could require the pilot to change course.
If a passenger chooses not to comply with the mask policy for other reasons, American Airlines said, attendants are still told to “not escalate further.”
A spokeswoman for United told Reuters that its crews would use their “de-escalation skills.” Delta had a similar policy. The three companies enforce mask policies before and after passengers board their flights.
One very practical problem should seem obvious- passengers drinking and eating during flights?
As ever, Congress tries to command and when that fails, enacts language which sounds good, but are difficult to enforce in reality. Shakespeare’s Macbeth:
One form of an otherwise social distancing violation may be okay with proper masking. (Picture courtesy of Lucy Murdock)
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