“United Airlines is for Lovers” turns to the U.S. airline industry to analyze the relationship between gay rights activism and workplace austerity measures in the 1990s. In February of 1997, United Airlines sued the City of San Francisco in an effort to exempt itself from a local ordinance requiring all employers to provide domestic partner benefits for frontline employees and their lovers. The move came as airline management intensified efforts to lower costs by extracting wage and benefit concessions from all unionized employees. This article traces an alliance among United flight attendants, their union, grassroots gay and AIDS activists, and mainstream LGBT political organizations that successfully challenged that lawsuit and won new medical and retirement benefits. By 1990, both conservatives and many LGBT activists were framing nuclear family as the organizing principle of the economy, making monogamy, domesticity, and partnership conduits for material resources. But as they did so, fewer and fewer working people — and less than half of flight attendants — lived within the boundaries of traditional family, instead organizing their households as single people, unmarried parents, cohabitating friends, and in inter-generational families. Tracing the theories and strategies that guided the domestic partner benefits campaign, this article demonstrates that the desires, needs, and political claims of non-traditional families are critically important resources to the broader effort to contest neoliberalism in the workplace.
Ryan Patrick Murphy; United Airlines is For Lovers?: Flight Attendant Activism and the Family Values Economy in the 1990s. Radical History Review 1 January 2012; 2012 (112): 100–112. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01636545-1416187
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