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A Winter of Discontent: Flight Attendant Labor Unrest Now Affecting American, United and Frontier

A Winter of Discontent: Flight Attendant Labor Unrest Now Affecting American, United and Frontier

The Denver-based ultra-low-cost carrier, Frontier has become the latest airline to face the prospect of strike action by flight attendants fighting for improved pay, benefits and working conditions.  Members of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) have voted overwhelmingly in support of a potential stoppage after long-running negotiations came to a head.

In a last-ditch attempt to hammer out a deal, union representatives will meet with the airline at the end of November after flight attendants voted 99% in favor of authorizing strike action.  Should the negotiations fail, AFA says it will use its CHAOS programme – Create Havoc Around Our System – to coordinate walkouts and stoppages with little or no notice given to management or passengers.

As we recently reported, the union has also been authorized to use its tried and tested CHAOS system by flight attendants at Air Wisconsin – a regional carrier that flies under the United Express brand on behalf of United Continental Holdings.  That vote was also won by a 99% margin with the national mediation board likely to recommend a 30-day cooling off period before any further action is taken.

Strike action at both airlines has been a long time in the making.  Contract negotiations at Air Wisconsin have dragged on for over two years, while Frontier flight attendants have been fighting for a new pay deal since 2015.  Union officials claim senior executives have pocketed $275 million in bonuses in the last two years, while flight attendants haven’t enjoyed a single pay rise since 2008.

Fed up Frontier flight attendants have already held several so-called informational pickets over the summer, including at the airline’s Denver hub in a bid to ratchet up the pressure and win over passenger support.  That’s exactly the same tact now being taken by flight attendants at one of the world’s largest airlines, American who will picket 15 key airports across the nation on the 18th November.

American’s cabin crew are looking to start contract negotiations early in bid to improve their pay and conditions, as well as address a number of other issues under the “wAAke up American” slogan.  Flight attendants have recently taken to social media using the #SickAAndTired hashtag to vent their frustrations with the airline – they claim American is putting profit ahead of passengers and staff, and flight attendants are unhappily stuck in the middle.

Not all is well at Delta either – one of the last remaining non-unionized airlines in the U.S. aviation industry has been accused of trying to shut down a unionization campaign by the IAM, while flight attendants at Jetblue voted in favor of union representation back in the summer.

In many ways, the U.S. aviation industry has never looked so rosy – passengers are enjoying record low air-fares, while airline shares surge on considerable profits.  What airlines will understandbly say, of course, is that this is all a very fine balancing act and that they need to make hay when the sun shines – there are clearly lots of potential issues on the horizon.  Perhaps, though, flight attendants have been squeezed too hard in recent cost cutting initiatives.

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