LAS VEGAS (CN) - Vision Airlines withheld more than $21 million in federally subsidized "hazard pay" for pilots and flight crews who delivered supplies to U.S. diplomats in war zones in Baghdad and Kabul, a class action claims in Federal Court.
Lead plaintiff Gerald Hester, a pilot, says the airline was a subcontractor on federal contracts to fly into the war-torn areas after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks as part of a "global strategy designed to eradicate terrorist organizations that threatened the security of the United States and its allies."
"Vision asked its employees to risk their lives and fly into two of the world's most dangerous locations in order to support the efforts of the United States government," the lawsuit states. "Vision's employees answered the call, and in return, the United States government provided Vision hazard pay for those employees who risked their lives as crew members on those flights."
The federal government has standardized the hazard pay for Baghdad and Kabul, according to the complaint: "Every captain, first officer and international relief officer receives $2,500 each for every takeoff and landing at the airports in Baghdad and Kabul, making a total of $5,000 in hazard pay per round trip. In addition, every other crew member, including flight attendants and mechanics, receive $1,500 each for every takeoff and landings at these airports, making a total of $3,000 in hazard pay per round trip."
The "extremely dangerous" flights typically occurred under the cover of darkness to avoid light arms fire, rocket propelled grenades and missile attacks. According to media reports, more than 1,000 contractors have died and more than 13,000 were injured flying in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Congress required the United States to pay government employees hazard pay, along with their regular salary, when they work under hazardous conditions or in combat zones, "to compensate the employee for the additional risk the employee incurs in performing his or her job under hazardous conditions."
But in August 2005, Vision "decided that it could capture a financial windfall if it simply retained all of the hazard pay," and stopped paying crew making the flights, according to the complaint.
Hester claims the airline also fired crew members who knew about or had previously received hazard pay, and replaced them with employees who did not know they were entitled to such compensation.
The airline's director of flight operations, Dan Carson, was also fired shortly after inquiring about the hazard pay, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit seeks hazard pay for unpaid pilots and crew members, and damages. The class is represented by Ross Goodman.
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