This Miracle Brought to You by America's Unions

picture-73.pngThey’re calling it a miracle–the successful landing of a US Airways jet in the Hudson and subsequent rescue of all 155 passengers. They’re detailing the heroism of all involved, starting with the pilot and including cabin crew, ferry crews, and first responders. What they’re not telling you is that just about every single one of these heros is a union member.

There’s the pilot:

What might have been a catastrophe in New York — one that evoked the feel if not the scale of the Sept. 11 attack — was averted by a pilot’s quick thinking and deft maneuvers,


On board, the pilot, Chesley B. Sullenberger III, 57, unable to get back to La Guardia, had made a command decision to avoid densely populated areas and try for the Hudson,


When all were out, the pilot walked up and down the aisle twice to make sure the plane was empty, officials said.

Sullenberger is a former national committee member and the former safety chairman for the Airline Pilots Association and now represented by US Airline Pilots Association. He–and his union–have fought to ensure pilots get the kind of safety training to pull off what he did yesterday.

Then there are the flight attendants:

One passenger, Elizabeth McHugh, 64, of Charlotte, seated on the aisle near the rear, said flight attendants shouted more instructions: feet flat on the floor, heads down, cover your heads.

They are members of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. Yesterday’s accident should remind all of us that flight attendants are first and foremost safety professionals–they should not be treated like cocktail waitresses.

There are the air traffic controllers:

The pilot radioed air traffic controllers on Long Island that his plane had sustained a “double bird strike.”

They’re represented by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. Someday, they’ll rename National Airport for the work these men and women do to keep us safe in the air.

There are the ferry crews:

As the first ferry nudged up alongside, witnesses said, some passengers were able to leap onto the decks. Others were helped aboard by ferry crews.

They’re represented by the Seafarers International Union. They provide safety training to their members so they’re prepared for events like yesterday’s accident.

There are the cops and firemen:

Helicopters brought wet-suited police divers, who dropped into the water to help with the rescues.

They’re represented by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and the Uniformed Firefighters Association and Uniformed Fire Officers Association (IAFF locals).They’re the men and women who performed so heroically on 9/11–and they’ve been fighting to make sure first responders get the equipment to do this kind of thing.

Bob Corker and Richard Shelby like to claim that union labor is a failed business model.

But I haven’t heard much about Bob Corker and Richard Shelby saving 155 people’s lives. 

Update: Sullenberger’s union membership corrected, UFOA added.

  1. ralphbon says:

    (And since I hope this post gets wide distribution, you’ll want to change “cabinet” to “cabin,” although a full flight sometimes feels more like the former.)

  2. AmIDreaming says:

    There’s a lot of metaphorical power in this episode. The *US Airways* plane seemed bound for tragedy. But thanks to the ingenuity and cooperation and coolheadedness of the professionals, the disaster was averted, and not a single soul on board was lost.

    If you were looking to concoct an inspirational fable to kick off the Obama administration, you couldn’t do better.

  3. KiwiJackson says:

    An excellent post. I just spotlighted it to quite a few news outlets. They’ll want to stretch the rescue story for a while, so what better direction that this one.

  4. nomolos says:

    Thank you EW for a wonderful post.

    Chesley B. Sullenberger III, 57

    Note his age of 57 … wow only a few years to go before the idiocy of forced retirement will remove him from the pilot ’s seat so he can be replaced by a younger “hot shot” that can be hired for less money. Me, I would rather have the pilot that has a load of experience, at higher salary, driving a plane I was on.

  5. UncommonSense says:

    But I haven’t heard much about Bob Corker and Richard Shelby saving 155 people’s lives.


    But I have heard a lot about the Bush administration and its GOP allies relaxing safety regulations on behalf of their corporate masters.

    Can you imagine what the story would have been yesterday if the Republican, free-market model had been in place?

    I can, and it makes me shudder.

  6. klynn says:

    “Ladies and Gentlemen of the Chamber, I enter into the record the following news item written by Marcy Wheeler about a recent emergency action required by highly qualified unionized staff of a US Airways flight and related emergency responders…

    With this real story, I implore you to vote yes for the Employee Free Choice Act.”

    At least I hope it is presented something like this…

  7. klynn says:

    EW thanks for at least putting the story into context and being the first one on the web to do so from my research. I actually was reading news about this flight before coming here EW. I had read three wire reports so far. Zippo on the mention of unionized workers responding…

    Lots of unions will report the news,make the movie and tv versions and publish the books too…

  8. TobyWollin says:

    I would also like to point out that these professionals were not hampered in any way by any political hack directors of federal agencies who are not competant to tie their own shoes. They worked together to save lives. Yes, there were some lucky strikes there – time of day, no ship traffic on the HUdson, the ferries were just gearing up to get out for the start of the rush hour, the pilot’s experience. But in the end, it was skilled people with the care and the will and who took personal responsibility to do the task and had the freedom to do so.

    • spurious says:

      I would also like to point out that these professionals were not hampered in any way by any political hack directors of federal agencies who are not competant to tie their own shoes.


  9. Rayne says:

    Wow. This has to be one of the best posts I’ve read in a long time, absolutely puts a stake in the heart of those who seek to destroy unions.


  10. BOHICA says:

    Having flown with some pretty damn good chopper pilots in my day, and then reading about this, I sometimes wonder how these pilots can work the pedals with balls that big.

  11. scribe says:

    Frankly, this post deserves to be read into the Congressional Record in a floor speech – both House and Senate – and made into a Union Yes type TV ad.

    I can easily see this as a one-minute spot, and maybe even (with some skilled TV work) a 30 second spot – something easily within financial reach of the Unions – to be run during, say, the Super Bowl or the Football championships this weekend.

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      Great idea, scribe.

      I’m one of those who by the time that I really got into the workforce viewed myself as a ‘professional’ and unions as a bunch of blue collar thugs. Man, have I ever done a 180 on that bit of personal hubris and ignorance!!

      To further underscore your point, on a Rachel Maddow segment last night, the last passenger off the plane found himself in a raft with the Pilot and Co-Pilot, because they had stayed behind in the plane to do a quick pass over ALL the seats and make sure no one was left inside before they exited the plane.

      And I’m with [email protected]: now, if US Airways can remain safe from the predators and sociopaths on Wall Street, maybe it can afford to remain in business and pay its employees decent incomes.

      EW, thx again for this perspective.

      • scribe says:

        My dad was a member of a number of different unions, the USWA and UAW primarily, and I was (for a while on a summer job) also with the USWA. I wish I could find my old union card, but it seems to have gone the way of all things.

        But I didn’t really “get it” about unions and why they are both important and a benefit to all of us until many years later.

  12. lutton says:

    Don’t forget the UFOA – Uniformed Fire Officers Assocation. My father-in-law and brother-in-law were both members in the FDNY.

  13. JTMinIA says:

    OT: HuffPo’s headline calls this the first water landing without fatalities in the history of commercial air. Only problem with this claim is that, early on, a large proportion of commercial airliners took off and landed on water and significant number still do.

    I think HuffPo is trying to avoid the word “crash” because that would seem to contradict the lack of fatalities. But as someone who grew up on an island, I still find the headline amusing.

  14. MrWhy says:

    The pilots, the cabin crew, the ferry crews, these were people responding to an exigent situation, who did their job as best they knew how.

    How do you get to Carnegie Hall from here? Practice, practice, practice.

  15. ffein says:

    Marcy…I sent a note and a link to this post to Stabenow and Levin….probably preaching to the choir, but suggested that they point their colleagues who seem determined to destroy unions to this post. Thanks for this clear reminder of their importance.

  16. sailmaker says:

    I’ve always found it ironic that after Reagan busted the PATCO union, National Airport was renamed for him.

    • BargainCountertenor says:

      I know that Congress renamed that airport for Saint Ronnie, but it will always be National Airport to me. I will not refer to it by his name, ever.

  17. spurious says:

    Someday, they’ll rename National Airport for the work these men and women do to keep us safe in the air.

    please please please

  18. joejoejoe says:

    GREAT post Marcy. This is the kind of speech that should be given on the floor of the US Senate by Dems ALL THE TIME.

  19. bluejeansntshirt says:

    NYC Police Dept. also has a Retiree Mobilization Plan.

    Hundreds of retired, dedicated professionals who responded after the events of 9/11 and are now organised and trained to respond to all types of emergencies.

  20. WarOnWarOff says:

    Of course, none of this wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for that Bird Strike.

    /Wingnut Pundit

  21. katymine says:

    It was also a Triumph of government…..

    – the plane held together because it was built to specifications and safety standards
    – it took a flock of birds to destroy the engines that are tested with frozen birds thrown into them
    – the safety equipment was on the plane mandated by safety regulations
    – city, coast guard, state and private boat owners coordinated together for a successful rescue……

    When regulations, specifications and standards are defined and updated with new information lives can be saved.

    When Government works well it is called a miracle……. only in a republican world. THAT is how it should always work……

    • slag says:

      An excellent and often overlooked point!

      For a far more banal example: I think about this every time I climb a scaffolding ladder over my stairway. It’s an unsettling experience dangling 15-20 feet above a staircase, knowing that if any one of the ladder’s joints breaks, I’m sure to break something along with it. Whenever I’m up there, I don’t thank Jebus for keeping me safe, I thank the fact that I live in an industrialized nation where safety regulations and codes actually mean something and manufacturers know they’ll get the pants sued off them if they’re negligent. And then there’s having health insurance…

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      When regulations, specifications and standards are defined and updated with new information lives can be saved.

      Well, word in my neighborhood is that as federal bureaucracies go, the FAA is kind of right down in the bottom basement with FEMA and the Veteran’s.

      Maybe Obama can find a ‘Shinseki’ for the FAA.

    • JoyB says:

      Excellent addition to an excellent post!

      As a former AFA member, I’m grateful. Yesterday’s successful ditching made my week.

  22. DWBartoo says:

    Great post Marcy.

    Pilot Chesley Sullenburger really did do “A heck of a job”.

    As did all the other real (are you listening, Schlozman, Palin, and Bu$hCO) heroes who put themselves, literally, on the line, and they all regarded what they did as merely ‘part’ of their job, albeit a very important part of their jobs.

    Sometimes, it is really quite simple to determine who actually has ‘class’.

    That is what a real ‘legacy’ is about, Georgie …

  23. dipper says:

    Thank you, EW, for writing this and reminding everyone that competence exists in our world even as Bush and his gang tried to remove it from everywhere.

  24. mui1 says:

    They’re represented by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. Someday, they’ll rename National Airport for the work these men and women do to keep us safe in the air.

    I think that idea makes more sense than naming an airport after Reagan.

  25. Synoia says:

    Kudos to the Cre of the plans. Now in Breaking news, George Bush has announced that the next phase of the Global War of terror is to be started immediatly:

    We need to invade Canada, and take out the homeland of those terrorist Geese. Clearly, the Geese were Canada Geese, sent to New York by Osama bin to Hockey, to terrorize the BofA employees on a business trip from New York to Charlotte, and to cause further Billions of dollar losses to the Banking Industry.

    We have intelligence that the collapse of the banking Industry was caused by a Canadian Goose plot, and we shall pursue these financial terrorists with all of our strength. Our first step will be to arrest and detain all the illegal immigrant Canadian Geese in the United States, and we have some very well built ovens in Guantanimo that will cook those Geese nicley. Our second action, will be to invade Quebec to determine if the French speakers aided and abbetted the Geese. The French were never with us on the Global War on Terror, and we konw if you aren’t for us you’re against us. This is evidence of the correctness of our philoosophy.

    I say to thsoe who comitted this deed: bring it on, your goose is cooked.

    And finally, that inaugeration? not going to happen. And my new title will be George I.

    • MrWhy says:

      The UN, at the invitation of Stephen Harper, has already deployed a team of biologists to Canada, since Bush declared this to be biological warfare. Most Canada Geese have migrated south from Canada, as they do each year – they hold dual citizenship, and Bush has already, by executive order, tightened immigration rules to prevent this happening in future.

      Dana Perino said at today’s presser “We have good intelligence that this was not a planned attack, the Canada Geese took advantage of a scheduling software glitch. We have detained several of the geese who survived, and are holding them for questioning. They are very cooperative as they become aware of how we typically treat geese. We have also recommended to the relevant authorities that all geese, not just Canada Geese, be required to file flight plans 24 hours in advance, rather than the 2 hours currently mandated.”

  26. RickMassimo says:

    Don’t you guys know it was a MIRACLE? A MIRACLE, I tells ya! None of those pointy-headed designers or scientists or inspectors or regulators or even pilots had anything to do with it! Jebus threw the geese into the engines, and Jebus guided the plane down safely. I dunno; maybe he was bored.

    • katymine says:

      It was government regulation and standards…
      It was training and professional work by excellent union labor
      It was community when everyone jumps in to help with a rescue

      This is how it should work…… but because we have become so used to the incompetence and failures on all levels that when government and private industry does work well, they have to call it a miracle.

  27. foothillsmike says:

    One item that should be mentioned is the heroism of the inspectors that refused to be quiet about the lapses in meeting inspection requirements and brought the matter to congress. These FAA whistleblowers deserve Kudos too.
    95 hrs & 39 min

  28. foothillsmike says:

    Accidents of this type are more frequent than one might think. My son, an AF flight instructor, was doing a night landing with a student when, as the nose of the plane came down they saw a bunch of deer on the runway. Both my son and his student stomped on the breaks and managed to stop within inches of the deer. Everyone in the unit complained to the base commander who refused to take any action. Within a few days another pilot and student were not so lucky. Fortunately they were not injured but the plane was totaled. There were four deer hit. They were able to tell by rounding up hoofs.
    95 hrs & 23 min

  29. labradog says:

    How the heck did US Airways Capt. Sullenberger, the hero of the Hudson jet crash, ever get his job?

    Did he graduate from Regent University?
    Does he oppose Roe vs. Wade?
    How has he supported president Bush?
    Did he or his relatives ever give money to a Democrat?
    The wrong answer to any of these questions would have kept him from a job in the Bush Dept. of Justice.

    It’s a good thing U.S. Airways hired him anyhow.

  30. maryo2 says:

    My dad was in Rural Letter Carriers Union. Rural Letter Carriers are contract mailpersons to the US Post Office. I remember him leaving for work one morning and saying “If the Union strikes, I won’t cross the line.” The union did not have to strike after lengthy negotiations. As a child, I was frightened because my mom and dad were so tense.

  31. JohnLopresti says:

    The post created interest in checking with the union to which I belonged longest, to verify the pension plan. Sorry, their computer said, seven years does not vest, and the time labored past is zeroed, so to receive returns on all those paycheck deductions from those seven years, regs now require ten more years before vesting. Right.

    The trick to right to work is right to emigrate, great for startup, then be somewhere else. Consider a British music professional’s complaint, copyrighted still, but in England copyright lasts a scant five decades, in 2016 it will be legal to “perform” a raft of ‘old music’.

    Those people were lucky, that, plus a lot of smart people keep NY metro area functioning. A governor named N.-sort-of-conservative-Rockefeller had a part in protecting waterfowl around there in 1968.

    That is a cold estuary. One of the most cryptic effects involving crossing on the pedestrians’ ferry there is debarking in NY, where some primordial urge seems to inspire all the unloading passengers to walk much more quickly than they were accustomed to walking when boarding.

  32. biodieselvw says:

    You’re assuming the same rescue would not have been made without a union? Come on now. There are ways of promoting unions, and then there are ways of making a fool of yourself and your website. This is the latter.

    • emptywheel says:

      Well, without the firefighters and police unions, would we be sure they had the communications systems to pull this off?

      And without the unions, would we be sure all the people involved, from the pilot to the flight attendants to the ferry crews, had the training to pull it off?

      The answer to both questions is, probably not, as those are both things that the unions have fought hard to win.

      • biodieselvw says:

        Bs, just because the unions fought for it doesn’t mean that the non-union employees wouldn’t have been capable of doing the same. You’re stretching this event verrrrry far. With all of the news going on in the world today you decide to write about how the unions saved everyone on the flight? What a joke. Human beings and courage saved everyone. Not a democrat, a republican, a union member, or Jebus as one poster wrote.

        Communications system? Without unions they would have non? The FAA requires the training for the pilots and attendants, not the unions.

    • bmaz says:

      Ah, wise input seeing as how it is put forth by an auto-troll who knows a few things about making a fool of himself. Jolly good show!

  33. tejanarusa says:

    Thanks for posting this, Marcy. I hadn’t thought about it, but you are absolutely right.
    Maybe non-unionized workers would have done as well – but you point out how many of the safety training programs came about because of pressure from the unions.

    And whoever mentioned the pilot’s age – that he’s approaching mandatory retirement. I’m with you on that (of course, my recent 59th birthday may bias me ; ) ). I’d support frequent testing of reflexes, vision, etc. after a certain age, and 60 is as good as any. I know I have to work harder than when I was young to keep my strenght and balance. But retirement requirements should not be one size fits all.

    I heard the pilot “walked the aisle of the plane” TWICE to be sure all the passengers were off. (compare and contrast, Michael Brown had to make his dinner reservation! And nobody even expected him to dive in the N.O. water to make rescues personally)

  34. isaacsgs says:

    The author forgot a very important union that is near and dear to my heart: the UAW 647 in Cincinnati, Ohio that built the CFM56 engines on the plane to such quality that no shrapnel exited the casing to injure any passengers. Lots of hard work goes into producing engines that don’t turn into M67 frag grenades when something is sucked into the engine and causes a catastrophic failure.

    So, without blowing my own horn too much, my dad and his coworkers down at the shop are at least partially responsible for the miracle that no one was killed. Would you mind adding the UAW 647 into your piece?

  35. Funnydiva2002 says:

    Hey, EW!
    Rachel Maddow’s all over this right now, too! Not connecting the union piece, but certainly the training and good construction, etc.
    She advocates examining what went right in this disaster as a model for how we should be rebuilding our country.
    Interviewing Stephen Flynn…
    The pilot also just happens to run an aviation safety consulting company…

    Happy Friday, Pups.
    And thanks for the story, Issacs