Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) is headed to Honolulu on Thursday to hold a press conference on the state of protracted contract negotiations between Hawaiian Airlines and its flight attendants. Nelson, who is “dubbed America’s most powerful flight attendant” on account of the fact that AFA represents over 50,000 crew at 20 different airlines, hasn’t given exact details about what will be discussed at the press conference.
But the very presence of Nelson at Thursday’s media event has led to speculation that Hawaiian’s flight attendants are now ready to pursue a walkout as their dispute with airline management ramps up.
Nelson has been a vocal supporter of workers rights, including the right to strike, notably supporting hotel cleaners in their fight for a living wage. In recent months she has attended a number of strike rallies and has warned ‘wildcat’ walkouts could hit airlines if they push their employees too far.
At the end of November, Hawaiian Airlines flights overwhelmingly voted in favour of supporting strike action. Over 99.9 per cent of crew who took part in the strike ballot supported industrial action including downing tools – the first time in the airline’s 90-year history that flight attendants had approved strike action.
The vote followed three years of failed contract negotiations. AFA claims pay and benefits for Hawaiian’s flight attendants have fallen far below their peers at other major U.S. airlines. At the same time, the cost of living in Hawaii has risen far above the national average.
Jon Snook, chief operating officer of Hawaiian, recently admitted that pay for the airline’s flight attendants had “fallen behind” and claimed the carrier was trying to “find a way to put pay in their pockets.”
But AFA says suggestions so far would also include cuts in medical insurance, slashing the number of crew on planes and detrimental changes to work rules. Ideas that they say are unacceptable.
Over the last few months, Hawaiian’s flight attendants have been holding regular demonstrations outside Honolulu’s main airport and they recently picketed the quarterly meeting of Hawaiian Airlines Board of Directors. Those demonstrations haven’t so far seen any shift in the company’s negotiating strategy.
In a statement, AFA simply said Nelson’s arrival in Hawaii would “signal to the airline the critical juncture of the negotiations.” The press conference is set to take place at 1.15 pm local time on Thursday afternoon.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.