[Flight attendants are aviation’s first responders. We have now
become frontline workers during a global pandemic. For many of us,
however, the immediate threat of the COVID-19 virus is not our top
concern.] [https://portside.org/] 

 PORTSIDE LABOR 

 GROUNDED REFLECTIONS OF TURBULENT TIMES  
[https://portside.org/2020-03-26/grounded-reflections-turbulent-times]


 

 Kaela Berg 
 March 25, 2020
Workday Minnesota
[https://workdayminnesota.org/grounded-reflections-of-turbulent-times/]


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 _ Flight attendants are aviation’s first responders. We have now
become frontline workers during a global pandemic. For many of us,
however, the immediate threat of the COVID-19 virus is not our top
concern. _ 

 , 

 

There is a solemness, a reverence almost, in the strange quietness of
shared spaces right now.

On a visit to the store today, I watched as a woman spent her last
paycheck to buy groceries because the airport had just closed down all
of its restaurants, where she was a server.  Another woman, wearing
a mask, admitted that she was diabetic and that even being in the
store felt risky to her. There was, between those of us in the store
today, physical distance, but somehow also a palpable
solidarity.  It feels, in this moment, as if there is an unspoken
respect and compassion among strangers reminiscent of the days after
9/11–a day that changed so much for all of us, but perhaps most
especially, for those in the airline industry. 

I wasn’t yet a flight attendant on that day. I was a mother, with
one baby in the crib and one safely in my belly. Today, I am still a
mother worried about her children in the face of something we don’t
yet fully understand, but now I am also a flight attendant and find
myself as afraid not to go to work as to go.

Flight attendants are aviation’s first responders. We have now
become frontline workers during a global pandemic. For many of us,
however, the immediate threat of the COVID-19 virus is not our top
concern.

As the airline industry sits at the precipice of another free fall, we
must make the difficult decision to either go to work as usual and be
exposed to exponentially greater risk, or take the airline’s
proffered unpaid leave of absence, also a great risk. It is likely
that, once again, a bailout is on the table for the top 4 carriers.

That should feel like a beacon in the night, or a light at the end of
this alarming and perplexing tunnel, an indication of some semblance
of job security. But ask any worker whose company has been through a
bankruptcy or bailout, and you’ll find that the likelihood of that
money ever reaching their pockets is slim. For years, the airlines
have reaped enormous profits on the backs of workers and consumers
alike. 

This week I took unpaid sick leave to help distance myself from the
public, as I knew I’d been in proximity to someone exhibiting
symptoms. As a recent single mom and sole income earner,  I labored
over the decision to stay home, as it meant a considerable financial
loss.

Why now, when airlines have been almost obscenely profitable for
several years, are their workers agonizing over choosing between the
physical health of themselves and their families, doing the right
thing in the face of an unknown and so far unmitigated public health
crisis, and being able to pay their bills and feed their families.

It’s a brutal decision, one that I am wrestling with even as I write
this. As our political leaders grapple with emergency measures in the
midst of this pandemic, one can only hope that the physical and
economic well-being of workers, especially frontline workers, will be
their priority.

_Kaela Berg is a proud union flight attendant, a labor and community
activist, and the mother of two sons. She is running for the Minnesota
State House in District 56B (Burnsville and Lakeville)._

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