OAN’s Stephanie Stahl
3:14 PM – Wednesday, October 25, 2023
Those expecting to travel during the holiday season this year may experience more flight delays and cancellations than ever as tens of thousands of airline employees gear up for a labor strike.
The union that represents more than 26,000 American Airlines flight attendants is threatening a widespread strike over the holiday travel season if contract negotiations continue to stall.
On Tuesday, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants issued a deadline for American Airlines to reach a new deal.
If the carrier does not make “significant” moves to come to a consensus by November 17th, then the APFA board will convene to seek a release from the mediation process. Clearing this hurdle would trigger a 30-day countdown until the flight attendants could initiate their strike, potentially beginning just days before Christmas.
Ron Todd, a 35-year-old flight attendant for American Airlines, reports that the COVID-19 pandemic is among the points of contention that led up to workers preparing to strike.
“During COVID-19, our crews showed up to face the most challenging conditions of our careers. Due to issues with mask mandates, we were bombarded with hostility, threats and sometimes violence. Only a fraction of the fist fights and freak outs made it to YouTube and other social media. It was nuts. We showed up anyway and kept the airline flying,” said Todd.
APFA President and flight attendant Julie Hedrick reported that “time’s up” for the airline to respond to the demands of its employees.
“At last week’s negotiations session, negotiators for American Airlines showed up with no response to our comprehensive economic and non-economic packages. Our flight attendants have overwhelmingly authorized a strike, and we will move the process forward and prepare for a strike if necessary,” Hedrick asserted.
The flight attendants are advocating for an immediate 33% wage increase, coupled with gradual increases over the next four years, resulting in a total pay raise of 50% compared to current rates.
Under this proposal, newly hired flight attendants who are currently earning $30.35 per hour would see their wages increase to $40.37 initially, with subsequent annual raises.
In contrast, the previous management proposal suggested an initial 11% pay increase, followed by 2% annual raises for the subsequent four years, resulting in a total increase of approximately 19% over five years.
The union is also pushing for significant changes in scheduling, vacation and sick leave policies, retirement benefits, and a return to staffing levels equivalent to those prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The union is currently working under a contract that was agreed to nearly a decade ago, in 2014.
A union spokesman, Paul Hartshorn Jr., reported that flight attendants are working harder than ever.
“Flight attendants are flying longer days with less rest. They’re flying more flights per day and their duty days, the time that they’re required to be on duty for the entire day, have increased as well,” Hartshorn said.
In August, approximately 99% of participating flight attendants voted to authorize a strike.
In certain industries, companies have the option to use non-union workers during a strike. However, that’s not a viable option for airlines as pilots and flight attendants are specially trained and certified to do those jobs.
There are not a significant number of individuals for these roles that are readily available for temporary fill-in work.
Striking is a last resort for airline employees, in part because they are aware of the negative impact it can have on passenger relations. Additionally, under the federal Railway Labor Act, unions and their airlines are required to engage in federal mediation to resolve their disputes.
A union can request to be released from mediation, but even if the request is accepted, there is a 30-day grace period and potential actions by President Joe Biden that could delay a strike.
Airline employees would be the latest group to ride the labor strike wave currently underway in the United States.
More than 330,000 American workers, including Hollywood actors and writers, medical technicians, and auto workers have participated in strikes since the start of September, according to Cornell University’s labor tracker.
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