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Some US Airlines Are Asking Their Employees to Do ‘Volunteer’ Work

Travel News Airports + Flying
by Elisabeth Sherman Jun 11, 2021

American Airlines probably thought it had its staffing problem figured out when it sent out an internal memo requesting that paid employees sign up for additional unpaid shifts. Unfortunately for the airline, the memo leaked online and the response was not favorable.

On June 7, a Twitter user leaked the memo to the public. It encouraged American Airlines employees at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to sign up for three six-hour shifts in addition to their full-time work schedule. The additional shifts would not come with extra payment on top of their normal wage.

The duties of the volunteer shifts would include helping people find their way to the correct check-in counters at the airport’s entrance, guide travelers through TSA checklists, and fetch wheelchairs — duties that fall squarely into the category of paid work.

While the memo states that the volunteer work is entirely optional, the airline also states that the so-called opportunity requires “commitment” and that the company will be enforcing a dress code — expectations one would expect at a paid job.

According to a report from InsideHook, this type of behavior from airlines is not unprecedented. Back in May, Delta pulled a similar stunt, claiming that the airline was “severely understaffed,” and needed help restocking food items and cleaning eating areas at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Instead of hiring paid staff members to take on these tasks, the company decided to enlist volunteers.

Some Twitter users called out the airline after the memo leaked, writing comments such as “the optics of this stuff from a multi-billion dollar corporation is just bonkers.” The Dallas Morning News interpreted the memo by reporting that employees “won’t be paid for additional shifts, and must volunteer outside of their normal job duties.”

Part of the reason people have criticized the move is that it’s three, six-hour shifts without extra pay to do a different job than what the person was hired for. “There’s no additional pay given the majority of shifts are during your normal work schedule,” the memo states. “That said, if your shift is outside of your normal work hours, talk to your leader about ways to ensure you’re able to balance.” Elsewhere, the memo states that “all volunteer time will be in place of, and not in addition to, your typical weekly hour total.”

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