Hillary Clinton is urging the White House to reject Norwegian Air’s application to fly to the United States over questions about its labor practices, adding her voice to a growing chorus of criticism surrounding the low-cost air carrier.
“Hillary Clinton urges the Obama Administration against moving forward with final approval of Norwegian Air International’s application,” Hillary for America labor campaign director Nikki Budzinski said in a statement. “Too many questions have been raised about NAI’s practices and plans.”
Norwegian Air has for years been seeking access to more airports in the U.S. and European Union, by establishing a subsidiary — Norwegian Air International — in Ireland, a member of the EU.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) tentatively approved the application last month.
But critics have slammed the company for attempting to skirt more stringent Norwegian labor and tax laws by establishing itself in Ireland and say it is undermining competition by hiring pilots contracted through Asia, where labor costs are lower.
Clinton’s rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders, has already voiced strong opposition to the airline over similar reasons.
“Norwegian Air International’s attempt to undermine international labor laws by outsourcing cheap labor from Thailand and other low-wage countries is unacceptable,” Sanders’s campaign website says. “We must do everything we can to prevent a global race to the bottom in the airline industry.”
Norwegian Air currently flies to some airports in the U.S. under the banner of its parent company, Norwegian Air Shuttle. But the company says the model for its low-cost subsidiary, which would offer transatlantic flights for as low as $150 each way, requires access to more Open Skies airports in order to have more route flexibility.
The Transportation Department said that in approving applications, it does not have to consider a clause in the U.S. and EU’s Open Skies agreement that says “opportunities created by the Agreement are not intended to undermine labour standards or the labour-related rights.”
Norwegian Air maintains that it established its subsidiary in Ireland for access to future traffic rights to and from the EU and to secure better aircraft financing rates, and has agreed not to use any Asian-based cabin crew on transatlantic flights.
But that hasn’t stopped a group of bipartisan lawmakers from pushing a bill that would require the DOT to consider the labor clause when approving permits, which would effectively block Norwegian’s bid.
The legislation picked up its 100th co-sponsor last week.
“Workers in the U.S. airline industry deserve rules of the road that support a strong workforce with high labor standards — not attempts by airlines to flout labor standards and outsource good-paying jobs,” Budzinski said in the statement.
“That’s why our Open Skies Agreement with Europe explicitly calls for the maintenance of high labor standards to guide the parties in its implementation.”
Norwegian, however, does not appear threatened by the comments from Clinton’s camp.
“Norwegian is confident the Department of Transportation will approve Norwegian Air International’s application,” Anders Lindström, a spokesman for Norwegian, said in a statement. “Approval of NAI will result in more U.S. aviation sector jobs, enable Norwegian to expand its already large pool of American crew, and deliver much needed competition and affordable fares to consumers on both sides of the Atlantic.”