April 11, 2003 – With American Airlines about to lay off all 34 of its employees on St. Thomas and St. Croix, Delegate Donna M. Christensen has called on her Capitol Hill colleagues to include aid for displaced workers in a bill before Congress to help airlines.
"The tremors shaking the airline industry have reached all the way to the Virgin Islands, which depends on tourism for its economy," she said in a release issued on Thursday.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the airline aid bill on Tuesday without such a provision, but Christensen said it is included in the version now before the Senate. The provision includes extended unemployment benefits, help with health-insurance costs and job retraining assistance, she said.
If the Senate approves the bill, the two versions must be reconciled before the legislation goes to President Bush for his signature.
Virgin Islands workers who will lost their jobs are eligible for positions at any of American's other destinations, airline spokeswoman Minnette Velez said from her office in Puerto Rico on Friday. "It depends on availability," she said.
Because personnel matters are confidential, Velez said, she could not comment on whether any of those workers have found new jobs at other American locations.
Velez said the carrier was forced to lay off the V.I. workers because of hard economic times coupled with the recent 25 percent increase in passenger and landing fees imposed by the V.I. Port Authority. "We have to make a leaner airline," she said.
The jobs are being eliminated because American is closing down its ground operations at the territory's two airports and contracting its subsidiary American Eagle to provide those services. (See "American closing St. Thomas ground operations".)
The airport fee increases came on top of economic crises facing the airline industry as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, rising fuel prices and, most lately, the war in Iraq.
An American office worker on St. Croix who did not want to be identified said she is going to wait it out and see if the airline reinstates the jobs before she considers moving to another American location. However, other workers are exploring jobs on the mainland.
"There are jobs available," she said, noting that the St. Croix staff is very senior. She said she has 26 years on the job and that many of the St. Thomas employees have also been with the company for years.
She said the employees will be let go on April 25. American announced on Wednesday that the 24 Cyril E. King Airport workers would be laid off then but had said last month that St. Croix operations would cease on April 15.
The employee said it upsets her that when the Port Authority announced the fee increases in January, it was apparent that American would need to take some action, but senators and other government officials are just now getting up in arms about the loss of jobs.
In further cutbacks, American also previously announced that American Eagle will eliminate its flights between St. Thomas and St. Croix as of May 1, and American will end seasonal flights from New York and Boston at the end of April, rather than the earlier scheduled June date.
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