In the latest sign of discontent amongst United’s own flight attendants, the airline is facing potentially crippling strike action in the run-up to Thanksgiving and the Christmas holiday period. On Thursday, flight attendants at United Express authorized strike action after two fruitless years of negotiation over pay and benefits.
The flight attendants work for Air Wisconsin, a regional carrier which is based in Appleton, WI – the airline solely operates under the United Express brand using a fleet of CRJ-200 regional jets. Air Wisconsin flight attendants wear United uniforms and perform their duties as United’s brand ambassadors.
“Enough is enough. Air Wisconsin Flight Attendants are ready to do whatever it takes to get a new contract,” explained Ernie Lazernick, a representative from the Association of Flight Attendants Air Wisconsin branch.
“We have made every sacrifice to ensure the stability of the airline while management refuses to offer meaningful pay and work rule improvements,” he continued. “Higher pay, no more delay!”
With overwhelming support – 99% of casted votes supported strike action – the union says it has a proven strategy that will create havoc across United’s entire regional route network. Called ‘CHAOS’ – Create Havoc Around Our System – the strategy could see the union call strike action with little or no notice to either airline management or passengers.
Meanwhile, mainline United flight attendants are exploring ways to “persuade management to take an alternate course of action” over plans to reduce staffing levels on certain international flights. The flight attendant union is calling on its members to stand together and be prepared to take part in as yet unspecified “solidarity actions.”
United drew ire from the union when it announced a cost-cutting measure to reduce the number of flight attendants in its Business and Economy Class cabins on certain long-haul international flights. AFA says the decision is based on creating “short-term gain for Wall Street” and will make flying United less safe for passengers.
“Reduced staffing means fewer Flight Attendants to observe odd behavior, identify intoxicated passengers, resolve issues at boarding, and de-escalate conflict between passengers,” the union explains.
“It means fewer Flight Attendants to respond to medical emergencies, back each other up with aggressive passengers, maintain a safe space for everyone, and follow through on addressing any issues of sexual assault or hostile situations.”
United said the move would bring United’s staffing levels in alignment with American Airlines and Delta and that work was ongoing to reduce flight attendant workload. Earlier this year, United finally completed the implementation of a joint collective bargaining agreement for flight attendants following the 2010 merger of Continental and United.